Atlantic Books, London, 2008.
Winner of the Man Booker Prize
It should have been a good day for little Balram Halwai, son of a rickshaw puller (“Mr. Vikram Halwai, if you please”) of Laxmangarh. He is promised a scholarship, a school uniform, and a glowing future. In a world filled with thugs and idiots, the school inspector tells him, a white tiger, the rarest of rare creatures, is born once in every generation. You are the white tiger.
But the very same day his family sells Balram to a tea-house owner to pay for his brother’s marriage. Instead of passively accepting his fate, Balram decides he is going to be a tiger and eat, not be eaten.
In this black comedy set in today’s India, Balram does indeed become a rich and famous “social entrepreneur” – once he murders his employer and makes off with the millions of rupees that were supposed to buy an election.
Aravind Adiga and the Epistolary Form
Like Mary Shelley in her own first novel, Aravind Adiga uses the epistolary form to tell the story of a 21st century Creature who makes it his destiny to track down and destroy his Creator, all the while keenly observing and commenting on the moral bankruptcy of his Mother Ganga.
In a series of letters to the Premier of China, Balram recounts his transformation from an honest boy growing up in the caste-ridden, impoverished, submissive “Darkness” — to a killer basking in the comforts of the Light.
A Biography of Balram
Born and raised in a tiny village controlled by the latest scions of four feudal landlord families — The Stork, The Buffalo, The Wild Boar, and The Raven — Balram eventually wheedles his way into a job as a chauffeur and is eventually taken to Delhi as a driver for Ashok, the Americanized son of one of the controlling families.
Strangely enough, Ashok is the most likable of the elite, at least until he shows that in a pinch he hasn’t the guts to stand by his so-called ideals. When push comes to shove, he is just like the rest of them. As the circumstances surrounding Ashrok’s murder are revealed, the reader feels it is less a tragedy than the result of implacable logic.
This is a remarkable debut novel on many levels. There are no sacred cows here. Adiga’s humor is biting; his tone is irreverent and iconoclastic, and his metaphors echo with a prophetic warning that extends far beyond the borders of India.