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The White Tiger Born in a village in heartland India, the son of a rickshaw puller, Balram is taken out of school by his family and put to work in a teashop As he crushes coals and wipes tables, he nurses a dream of escape—of breaking away from the banks of Mother Ganga, into whose depths have seeped the remains of a hundred generationsThe White Tiger is a tale of two Indias Balram’s journey from darkness of village life to the light of entrepreneurial success is utterly amoral, brilliantly irreverent, deeply endearing and altogether unforgettable

  • Mass Market Paperback
  • 321 pages
  • The White Tiger
  • Aravind Adiga
  • English
  • 07 February 2017
  • 9781848877228

About the Author: Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger, won the Man Booker Prize for fiction in 2008 Its release was followed by a collection of short stories in the book titled

10 thoughts on “The White Tiger

  1. Nandakishore Varma Nandakishore Varma says:

    This review contains what may be spoilers. Even though I do not think it will spoil your reading experience, I am putting the warning here because one reader pointed it out.


    Before I begin my review, a statutory warning to all my patriotic Indian brothers and sisters... this is India-bashing, large scale. If you are the sort of person who gets all worked up when any aspect of India is criticised, this book is not for you.

    That said, Arvind Adiga bashes India where it has to be bashed. No honest reader will be able to dispute that the picture of India he paints is a false one. You will find the majority of Indians embarassedly changing the topic when Bihar (the state Adiga names Darkness) enters the conversation. Most of the things he mentions are not only possible, but probable and even likely. You only have to read any Indian newspaper over the period of a week to know it.

    But I believe the author fails in the creation of Munna alias Balram Halwai, the protagonist, because his voice is totally out of character with the person. It is the supercilious voice of a Westernised Indian, detached from his home country by education and station in life that comes through. The street smart Munna who murdered his employer and set up his business in Bangalore will talk in an entirely different way (for example, he will never say five hundred thousand rupees - he'll say five lakhs). Here, the character just becomes a mouthpiece for the author.

    Secondly, Adiga goes overboard in criticising India, so that some of his examples become rather extreme (the immediate one that comes to mind is the schoolteacher boozing and sleeping in the classroom). In some other cases, they are downright silly (Balram buys a dosa and throws out all the potatoes before giving to Mukesh, whereas he could have bought a dosa easily without the potatoes: these are two varieties). It also confirms the opinion I formed of Adiga from his bio that he is that type of Indian Lord Macaulay wanted to create: Indian only by birth but English in spirit.

    Lastly, the story failed to hold my interest. Take out all the social criticism and it is nothing but a hollow shell. And the gimmicks, like framing it as a letter to the Chinese premier, are trite to the point of being nauseating.

    The only thing that forced me to give two stars to this work is some of the pithy statements Adiga makes about Indian society. Especially the ones about how caste-ridden India was a zoo, with all animals in separate cages when the British let them all out, so now only the ones with the big bellies and the ones with the small bellies are left; about automobile horns during a traffic jam joining together to form a single wail like a lost calf wailing for its mother; and the one about how the major diseases India faces are cholera, typhoid and election fever (though I would also include cricket).

  2. Will Byrnes Will Byrnes says:

    They remain slaves because they can’t see what is beautiful in this world. That’s the truest thing anyone said…Even as a boy I could see what was beautiful in the world: I was destined not to stay a slave.
    The White Tiger is a grim, biting, unsubtle look at 21st Century India, stuck in the mire of a corrupt, cynical past, and debauching and slaughtering its way into a corrupt and cynical future, told by a working class fellow who, through ambition, intelligence, and a willingness to be utterly ruthless is clawing his way up the rungs of the Indian class ladder. It paints a bleak picture, offering little optimism for an India that will be any cleaner, fairer or more humane than the India it is replacing.

    Aravind Adiga - image from The Guardian

    While the subject matter is dark, the novel is fast-paced and engaging, drawing the reader in to the cares and concerns of the servant class. The narrator, Balran, may not be the most well written character in literature, but he will do as a vehicle for showing an India in transition from one form of bad to another.

    Adiga paints a sharp line between Darkness and Light. The first is represented by rivers, particularly the Ganges, fouled with filth of diverse sorts, while the ocean is considered The Light, pure, cleansing. This seems to correspond to internal versus external. What is Indian in origin is dark and corrupt while what comes in from the outside is pure. Does Adiga really think the product of India is a black muck of corruption and the incoming tides of social change is pure light? I doubt it. His entrepreneurial hotspot of Bangalore is clearly just as corrupt as the traditional world it is replacing.

    Adiga goes into some specifics on the sociopolitical structures in India. His narrator’s village was essentially owned by four rich men, feudalism in effect, each named for an animal, each taking a piece of every bit of labor and product in their respective domains.
    their children were gone but the Animals stayed and fed on the village, and everything that grew in it, until there was nothing left for anyone else to feed on.
    Class is written in flesh
    A rich man’s body is like a premium cotton pillow, white and soft and blank. Ours are different. My father’s spine was a knotted rope, the kind that women use in villages to pull water from wells; the clavicle curved around his neck in high relief, like a dog’s collar; cuts and nicks and scars, like little whip marks in his flesh, ran down his chest and waist, reaching down below his hip bones into his buttocks. The story of a poor man’s life is written on his body, in a sharp pen.
    The old ways are a drag on the people of India - [regarding the cremation of his mother and the attempt to move her remains into the Ganges]
    The mud was holding her back: this big, swelling mound of black ooze. She was trying to fight the mud; her toes were flexed and resisting; but the mud was sucking her in, sucking her in. It was so thick, and more of it was being created every moment as the river washed into the ghat. Soon she would become part of the black mound and the pale-skinned dog would start licking her.

    And then I understood: this was the real god of Benaras—this black mud of the Ganga into which everything died and decomposed, and was reborn from, and died into again. The same would happen to me when I died and they brought me here. Nothing would be liberated here.
    Class is seen as slavery, but how to cast off those chains, even if one sees what is beautiful? The Great Socialist is the only name of a party leader who proclaims his devotion to the working people but who is merely another corrupt politician. Still, he retains a certain appeal to the proles.
    That was the positive side of The Great Socialist. He humiliated all our masters—that’s why we kept voting him back.
    Sounds like something with applicability across many nations and cultures. Adiga shows his sharp satirical sense, toward the use of religion in Indian life again and again. After Balram gains an advantage over another servant, the servant is forced to flee.
    When I woke up he was gone—he had left all his images of gods behind, and I scooped them into a bag. You never know when those things can come in handy.
    And religion is not the only opiate of the masses.
    just because drivers and cooks in Delhi are reading Murder Weekly it doesn’t mean that they are all about to slit their masters’ necks. Of course they’d like to. Of course, a billion servants are secretly fantasizing about strangling their bosses—and that’s why the government of India publishes this magazine and sells it on the streets for just four and a half rupees so that even the poor can buy it. you see, the murdered in the magazine is so mentally disturbed and sexually deranged that not one reader would want to be like him—and in the end he always gets caught by some honest, hardworking police officer (ha!), or goes mad and hangs himself by a bedsheet after writing a sentimental letter to his mother or primary school teacher, or is chased, beaten, buggered, and garroted by the brother of the woman he has done in. So if your driver is busy flicking through the pages of Murder Weekly, relax. No danger to you. Quite the contrary. It’s when your driver starts to read about Ghandi and the Buddha that it’s time to wet your pants.
    There are upstairs/downstairs refrains as well. When Balram and his employer are living in Delhi, the master lives in a nice apartment in the high rise, while Balram is relegated to a tiny, roach-infested space in the basement.

    Adiga sums up the have vs have-not relationship
    Never before in human history have so few owed so much to so many…A handful of men in this country have trained the remaining 99.9 percent—as strong, as talented, as intelligent in every way—to exist in perpetual servitude; a servitude so strong that you can put the key of his emancipation in a man’s hands and he will throw it back at you with a curse.
    After Balram has committed his large crime, he takes care of his young cousin, but sees that their relationship is less one of kin than one of necessity:
    Oh, he’s got it all figured out, I tell you. Little blackmailing thug. He’s going to keep quiet as long as I keep feeding him. If I go to jail, he loses his ice cream and milk, doesn’t he? That must be his thinking. The new generation, I tell you, is growing up with no morals at all.
    It is clear that while family is a glue that binds Indian together, Balram has abandoned his. In Balram’s brave new world, it is every man for himself.

    There is more imagery of class fixity, but enough already. It might have been nice to have seen some rays of light, however faint, in this Stygian gloom. Alas. At least the old India offered some comfort in family and clan. The new India is, in this take, spinning individuals off from even those bases into separate cells, each one striving against all the others for the available scraps. We can only hope that Adiga is wrong.

    Published 2008

    Review Posted 2008 – slightly edited and reposted November, 2017

  3. Ahmad Sharabiani Ahmad Sharabiani says:

    The White Tiger, Aravind Adig
    The White Tiger is the debut novel by Indian author Aravind Adiga. It was first published in 2008 and won the 40th Man Booker Prize in the same year. The novel provides a darkly humorous perspective of India’s class struggle in a globalized world as told through a retrospective narration from Balram Halwai, a village boy. In detailing Balram's journey first to Delhi, where he works as a chauffeur to a rich landlord, and then to Bangalore, the place to which he flees after killing his master and stealing his money, the novel examines issues of religion, caste, loyalty, corruption and poverty in India. Ultimately, Balram transcends his sweet-maker caste and becomes a successful entrepreneur, establishing his own taxi service. In a nation proudly shedding a history of poverty and underdevelopment, he represents, as he himself says, tomorrow.

    تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و یکم ماه ؤانویه سال 2009 میلادی
    عنوان: ببر سفید؛ نویسنده: آراويند آديگا؛ مترجم: نازنین میرصادقی؛ تهران، ایرانبان، 1387، بدون شماره گذاری، شابک: 9789642980673؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان هندی - سده 21 م
    عنوان: ببر سفید؛ نویسنده: آراويند آديگا؛ مترجم: مژده دقیقی؛ تهران، نيلوفر، 1389، در 286 ص، شابک: 9789644484377؛
    عنوان: ببر سفید؛ نویسنده: آراويند آديگا؛ مترجم: آزاده نوری روزبهانی؛ تهران، نشرگستر، 1389، در 271 ص، شابک: 9789645544902؛
    عنوان: ببر سفید؛ نویسنده: آراويند آديگا؛ مترجم: مامک بهادرزاده؛ تهران، آوین، 1389، در 344 ص، شابک: 9789648148428؛
    عنوان: ببر سفید؛ نویسنده: آراويند آديگا؛ مترجم: ابوالفضل رئوف؛ تهران، روزگار، 1389، در 334 ص، شابک: 9789643742713؛

    نخست‌وزیر چین به هند مسافرت كرده، تا درباره ی كارآفرینان هندی پژوهش كند. یكی از كارآفرینان هند، نامه‌ ای به نخست‌ وزیر می‌نویسد و در آن از تجربیات خود سخن می‌گوید. او كه از فقیرترین طبقات هند بوده، با صداقت كامل، مسیر رسیدن خویش به ثروت و قدرت را بیان می‌كند. داستان به صورت مجموعه‌ ای از نامه‌ هاست، و نگارنده در طول آن، خوانشگر را با مردمان، دین، آیین و ساختار سیاسی هند، آشنا می‌كند. ا. شربیانی

  4. Always Pouting Always Pouting says:

    I'm not sure what I expected going into this book but it wasn't really this. The book was very tongue in cheek and I could completely sympathize with our narrator even at the end. The idealistic part of me was a little horrified and upset by a lot of it but I think it's pretty realistic and really made me think about the servant/master dynamic in a way I hadn't considered before. I'm just torn about whether to rate it four stars or five because the ending felt a little anticlimactic but at the same time I feel that endings are always the hardest to write and a lot of times end up falling short so...

  5. Jwala Jwala says:

    Well the stories of murderers and psychopaths are generally like cakes to most of us(and i am no exception). I either love such protagonists or hate them whole-heartedly. Coming to Balaram, the situation is different. I had never felt anything for him even after reading 300 pages. I didn’t even hate him and I was completely indifferent towards him mainly because I felt that his character is artificial and inconsistent.
    Every time I read a cynical work or a satire I feel that I have become a bit more intelligent. But coming to White Tiger, the situation is again different. I don’t think I have become intelligent by reading the book’s take on corruption and class inequalities in India.
    Though I didn’t like the book much, the one thing I really liked about it is the author’s keen observations and it is the only thing which kept me going. In my view I don’t think his social commentary on Contemporary India comes as surprising to any Indian. Maybe Westerners may find it interesting reading about the so called “real India” or “The Other Side of India”.

    P.s:- Why is it that the authors who overplay the negatives of India are so popular? Maybe because they write books about India for foreign senses and maybe it’s because they are doing a social service by bringing the “real unknown India” into limelight. Then why is Satyajit Ray accused of “exporting poverty” by the Indians for his lively and real Indian works

  6. Fabian Fabian says:

    The White Tiger of Bangalore is cunning, fast, intrepid-- the perfect symbol for this perfect novel that reminds the reader of characters like Scarface & friends-- Antiheroes all. Adiga's yarn is utterly engrossing; it's a mystery unraveled in the purest tradition of classic storytelling. It has that picaresque quality (which is one of the hardest tricks for a novelist to pull off, truly, really) needed to balance out all the heaviness of a constant train of melancholic events (violence and tenderness masterfully intermingled), an oppressive setting (modern day India), & a tale that when stripped of its resplendent coat of heavy whites and blacks, is all pulpy, red, meaty, nasty-- still retaining a beauty that is more than the reader expected or felt entitled to. Coincidentally, it has hints of some of my favorite books/film: Ishiguro's Remains of the Day, Indra Sinha's Animal's People & Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire.

    I wholly give FULL endorsement to this marvelously universal yet blissfully irreverent novel.

  7. Paul Bryant Paul Bryant says:

    The perfect companion piece to Slumdog Millionaire, and if you didn't like that movie, you won't like this book for the same reasons. It's a no-nonsense bulldozing mordant splenetic jackhammer of a story written as a tough slangy 300 page fast-reading monologue. It's a novel of information, not art. It tells you all about modern India with a traditional rags-to-riches fable. Our hero murders his employer unapologetically, and that's how he gets his riches. This is not rocket science. This is smashing a guy over the head with a broken bottle of Johnny Walker.
    But 90% of the book is not really the story, it's an anguished howl of rage about a distance of eighteen inches. In India, and indeed in other places too, the Rich and the Poor inhabit different universes. But the rich hire some of the poor as servants. This novel is the story of a servant who was a driver. In the car, the driver is separated from his employer (the word used here is Master) by the short distance of 18 inches. But economically, psychologically, medically, it's really 400 light years, as we know. And yet, every day, there they are, cheek by jowl, 18 inches apart, the one regarding the other with irritated amusement or annoyance or contempt, depending on mood, and being reciprocated with fawning fear and even awe. Our hero Balram is the rare beast (white tiger) who does not succumb to this fear and awe. But it's a struggle, and I was glad to be along for the ride.

    In the London Review of Books, Sanjay Subrahmanyam almost trashes The White Tiger. His main beef is the language of the novel :

    What of Balram Halwai? What does he sound like? Despite the odd namaste, daal, paan and ghat, his vocabulary is not sprinkled with North Indian vernacular terms. His sentences are mostly short and crudely constructed, apparently a reflection of the fact that we’re dealing with a member of the ‘subaltern’ classes. He doesn’t engage in Rushdian word-play. But he does use a series of expressions that simply don’t add up. He describes his office as a ‘hole in the wall’. He refers to ‘kissing some god’s arse’, an idiomatic expression that doesn’t exist in any North Indian language. ‘Half-formed ideas bugger one another, and make more half-formed ideas’ and the Chinese prime minister is advised never to ‘let that blasphemous idea into your yellow skull’. On another matter, he sneers: ‘They’re so yesterday.’ A clever little phrase appears: ‘A statutory warning – as they say on cigarette packs – before we begin.’ Dogs are referred to as ‘mutts’. Yet whose vocabulary and whose expressions are these? On page after page, one is brought up short by the jangling dissonance of the language and the falsity of the expressions. This is a posh English-educated voice trying to talk dirty, without being able to pull it off. This is not Salinger speaking as Holden Caulfield, or Joyce speaking as Molly Bloom. It is certainly not Ralph Ellison or James Baldwin, whom Adiga has claimed as his models in speaking for the underdog. What we are dealing with is someone with no sense of the texture of Indian vernaculars, yet claiming to have produced a realistic text.

    and then devastatingly:

    The paradox is that for many of this novel’s readers, this lack of verisimilitude will not matter because for them India is and will remain an exotic place. This book adds another brick to the patronising edifice it wants to tear down.

    He's right, it didn't matter to me that a guy who doesn't speak English is represented as using hundreds of idiomatic English phrases. But for me that problem is the same as the one posed by the question how can this first person narrator remember conversations in detail which happened years ago and anyway, who the hell is she talking to? - i.e. it's a device, we suspend our disbelief, we do it all the time : every time we watch a movie we could be asking ourselves (but don't) whose point of view is this all from?. Who gathered all those documents together to form the text known as the novel Dracula? Well, no one, because Bram Stoker made it all up. How could Clarissa have found the time to write all those long, long letters in Clarissa? And so on. (note : Subrahmanyam was the only really dissident voice I found regarding The White Tiger so I thought his argument was worth considering.)


    The White Tiger is the 9th Booker Prize Winner I've read and redresses the balance between the Splendid (this one, Midnight's Children, Remains of the Day and Sacred Hunger) and the What Were They Thinking (Life & Times of Michael K, Hotel Du Lac, Possession, Life of Pi and especially, remarkably, horrendously, Vernon God Little).

  8. Mark Mark says:

    Balram Halwai grew up in the Darkness -- the immense swath of rural India where the poor vastly outnumber the rich and where the right of the rich to oppress the poor is rarely questioned.

    By dint of his intelligence and ambition, he becomes the No. 2 driver to a local landlord nicknamed The Stork, and when he discovers the No. 1 driver has been hiding a secret, is able to displace him and eventually move to Delhi with the landlord's Westernized son, Mr. Ashok, and his modern wife, Pinky Madam.

    Quite early in this debut novel, Balram -- writing a long letter to Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, who is about to visit India -- confesses that he has murdered Mr. Ashok, a crime that enabled him to move to Bangalore and set himself up as an entrepreneur.

    The flashback journey he relates in his letter describes how he came to that point, and in the process, it lays out a sardonic, seriocomic saga of the plight of India's poor. At one point, Balram tries to explain why the poor don't rise up to overwhelm their masters, and the best metaphor he can come up with is the chicken market in old Delhi, where live roosters sit powerless in cages beneath the carcasses of their freshly slaughtered brothers. He writes:

    Every day, on the roads of Delhi, some chauffeur is driving an empty car with a black suitcase sitting on the backseat. Inside that suitcase is a million, two million rupees; more money than that chauffeur will see in his lifetime. If he took the money he could go to America, Australia, anywhere, and start a new life. He could go inside the five-star hotels he has dreamed about all his life and only seen from the outside. He could take his family to Goa, to England. Yet he takes that black suitcase where his master wants. He puts it down where he is meant to, and never touches a rupee. Why?

    Because Indians are the world's most honest people, like the prime minister's booklet will inform you? No. It's because 99.9 percent of us are caught in the Rooster Coop just like those poor guys in the poultry market.

    This novel won the Booker Prize this year, sparked outrage among many in India, but more than anything else, it tells an entertaining tale with the strong, distinctive voice of a man whose soul has had to move from servitude to independence, and who, despite his horrific deed, finds the freedom to live by his own standard of decency.

  9. David Putnam David Putnam says:

    Really enjoyed this book and it goes in my top five favorite in a very cramped literary category, along with City of Thieves. Highly recommend this one.

    David Putnam author of the Bruno Johnson Series.

  10. Peter Peter says:

    The White Tiger is a contemporary fictional account of ambition in an unbridled corrupt Indian society, where rigid social class dictates what options are available. Aravind Adiga arrived with the wave of fantastic Indian authors providing insights into their country and the restraints that shackle them to their caste system. As India transitions from a developing country to a world leader in science and technology output, it is struggling to modernise with regards equal opportunity, and equal quality of life for many of its citizens. An interesting statistic is that by 2025 it is estimated that India will surpass China as the largest populated country in the world. India’s transformation in technology, population and equality is on a major societal collision. A collision where dispassionate and amoral exploitation and hardship festers and grows.

    Balram Halwai, known as The White Tiger, writes a series of letters to the Chinese President on the eve of his visit to India. In the letters he explains the differences between the two countries in terms of democracy and economic vision, then his letters unfold into a confessional statement of how he has tried to advance his career.

    Balram is a chauffeur to a rich businessman in Delhi where he is exposed to wealth and a lifestyle that he believes he can only obtain if he commits certain crimes. The extremes of wealth and opportunities are so clearly presented and the book does not hide from these disparities. The story is cleverly written with great dialogue that treats us to dark humour with striking rawness. The characters and backdrop are vividly written to create sympathy and encouragement for the entrepreneurial Balram in a narrative that pulls no punches.

    The White Tiger is the 2008 Booker Prize Winner and while many may feel it doesn’t deserve that accolade, including me, it is still a book well worth reading. It portrays an India in its rudimentary form, and its polarised societal structure illustrates how ambition, corruption, and values attributed to life, are so unique. It is a powerful contemporary story that I would recommend.

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