Book Review: The White Tiger



Finally, I read this book. The book was interesting to read. First the interesting background story of the book:

This book’s author Aravind Adiga was very much in news before the book came out for receiving the one-of-the-highest-advances- Indian-authors-have ever-received-for- a-book in an auction at London Book Fair. $30, 000 USD (14lakhs). Remember advance is the not the total money an author makes, its amount of money that is given to cover the time it will take the writer to write the book. And then when the book got published, it would not sell, pubishers were worried. Situation, of course, changed when The White Tiger was awarded  Man Booker Prize. Book sales soared. Then Adiga, dropped another newsy bomb, by firing his agent who had got him a big fat advance.

So coming back to book, this book too, like Slumdog Millionaire has raised question that why western world only laps up books about India’s poverty and darkest corner. Book’s premise can be summed up in a single sentence as: Story of poor rickshawpuller’s son Balram who tells story of his life (India’s ‘darkness’) to Chinese premier. Of course, book also covers other cliche about India: our call centers.

The book is written in monologue narrative format just as Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist is. I do not know why author chose Chinese Premier in particular to tell his story. Though author does provide a filmsy reason for his choice. There are faint digs at China at times, but focus of the book is to point out the BIG divide between rich and poor in the country. Story is set in our Capital City Delhi, taking dig at corruption amongst our bureaucrats.

Throw in a murder, suspense is added to the story of ‘Darkness’ in India. I would not breathe a single more word about the murder in the plot, go read and find yourself. Other than that, you very much know the plot, but to taste it you will have to read the pithy, witty prose.

It is a single-point-of-view-story, it is very believable. As they say, such underbelly exists in our country. Unlike Arundhanti’s The God of Small Things, The White Tiger is very readable, written in lucid language. The narrative, even if related to unpleasant subjects, is written in form of witty prose. It is also fast-paced to read as brevity is ingrained in Adiga’s writing.

My Rating: 3.5/5, only because it is readable. I can not give it 5 because the book didn’t tell me anything I did not know, also because it is uni-dimensional. Life is not so uni-dimensional always.

My Bonus gift to you: This short story called The Elephant (after The White Tiger) written by Aravind Adiga for New Yorker. It is story of Chennaya, a coolie, another man from Indian Rooster camp. You will understand the term Rooster Camp once you read Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger.

P.S: January 27 was Lewis Carrol’s birthday. One of his two cents: “One of the secrets of life is that all that is really worth the doing is what we do for others.”

30 Responses to “Book Review: The White Tiger”

  1. 1 Nikhil January 27, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    Great Review! 🙂
    But I hate Aravind Adiga – he stole my chance of being the first Kannadiga to win the Booker! 😀

  2. 2 vishesh unni raghunathan January 27, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    @nikhil: ya well I will be the youngest 😀

    nice review 🙂

  3. 3 Oxy January 27, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    I guess I started reading it 3 months back and I am still at it (having finished 2 other in between). And to top it all, I also picked Adiga’s ‘Between Assassinations’ for simultaneous read.. .. Jai-Ho… Wonder when will I be done with both?

  4. 4 Reema January 27, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    Ummm no comments 🙂

  5. 5 Poonam Sharma January 28, 2009 at 10:13 am

    @Nikhil: Thanks! Aah, you mean to say you missed being first Indian to win BOoker, you hate Arundhati 😉 But you can still be first PR guy to win a BOoker prize for himself. 😀

    @Vishesh: Its good to dream, for dreams often come true. 🙂

    @Oxy: I have noticed that if you take very long time to go back to a book, you lose interest as your short term memory and feelings may not be in sync with the events of the book. Or maybe you did not like The White Tiger enogh. Are you liking his other book? And did you read his short story taht I have linked in my post?

    @Reema: No comments about what? the book? or my review? or the comments above? :Confused:

  6. 6 Chirag January 28, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Ha ha ha great review, read it and as you said nothing new was gained 🙂

  7. 7 Dev January 28, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    Now here is my take. I really dont know the criteria for giving a book the MAN BOOKER, but I am sure the criteria is ‘bullshit’.
    White Tiger did not have anything in it. Simply nothing. Why did he write that book. It simply sucked.

  8. 8 Kanupriya January 28, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Nice Review…even I am reading this book. As of now I’ve mixed reactions for this book.

  9. 9 Dev January 28, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    Thanks for the review. I will try to read it soon.

  10. 10 amreekandesi January 29, 2009 at 6:25 am

    Nice review! Hopefully i will read this book someday soon!

  11. 11 Poonam Sharma January 29, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    @Chirag: We knew everything that was there in “White Tiger’s” story.

    @Dev: What exactly disappointed you? Though I agree I wonder how it got Booker. 🙂

    @Kanupriya: Be sure to report your reactions when you have reda the book.

    @Dev, amreekandesi: Sure, report back if and when you rad the book.

  12. 12 Arpit January 29, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    yes i remember this author….was he the first one to get man bookers prize?read it somewhere …….. its on delhi i would love to read it 😛 but i brought this book from my school library by khushwant singh -delhi….didnt even read it was just like soft porn ( and there was nothing about delhi so returned it asap)
    i read this book by mrinal pandey – my own witness .its a nice book i think you will like it

    oh i have missed on 3 posts …..will get back with my comments soon

  13. 13 Dev January 30, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    Reasons for my dissappointment?
    Just the fact that my expectations were broken and i have thrown a couple of hundred bucks on this ‘BOOKER WINNING’ book, which i could atleast have used to buy Chahcha Choudharies of the world..

  14. 14 Roop Rai January 31, 2009 at 3:29 am

    a friend told me not to read it if i didnt want to live in an eternal fear of drivers. :p

  15. 15 Amit January 31, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    Hmmm..I have been toying with the idea of buying it from quite some time. So its not absolutely brilliant?? 3.5 does not seem to be a good rating. 😦

  16. 16 ashine February 1, 2009 at 12:57 am

    Mr. Adiga ….I liked ur way ……the lucid way d story is being narrated, the way it unfolds itself. so beautifully, so naturally ……………. Good Work Mr. Adiga…….. hats off to you ……….. But that’s not just it, I’ve a few questions for U Mr. Adiga oooopssss ………… Mr. Tiger.

    Is it all that you find in India ? darkness, restrictions, deaths, cruelity, miseries, meanness, and all the similar things ……………… U call some one free, hero, enterpreneur, the white tiger …..the one who cheated his own master ………… NO ……. please dont ………….. a tiger will never do that ………… back stab its own parents …………… kill them ………… never ……………… U say witch to the goddess but forget that still many Indians revered her ……… its good to enjoy the freedom but only to an extent where it dont start hurting the sentiments of others ……………. especially for an author such admanance doesn’t sound good ……..just an advice.

    This in no way means that I put all your words in the ‘false’ category ……………no .. many things that you mentioned in the book can be the realities experienced by many Indians …………………yes ……… there is so much truth in your story ………… quite a lot number of corrupt police , politicians and public servants ……., but along with all that darkness ………….why haven’t u mentioned the positive things too ………..things like truth …… honesty …… love …….. sacrifice ………….and values ………..why they were never ever touched in your book …………… these are not just in the pages of Indian history books Mr. Adiga …………….. but fyi that is in the tradition of india , in its heart in its blood, mixed such that they can never separate …….. otherwise India would have been dead by now Mr. Adiga ……..yes dead by now… just open your eyes and see …………… you will find heroes in common men ………… dont go too far ………. just try to see what is near to you ……… a child helping a blind to cross a busy road …….. a person spending its weekends b/n ‘HIV affected’ kids …………. spreading love among them ………. but for that you need to see near ………….. oh but u cant do that …………….. sitting miles away …………… how can u see all these ………… happening here in India ………..

    These so called ‘white men’ ………….. have ruled us for centuries ……. and may be your story has met their expectations ………… their dreams, their desire, their image of the slave India ……….a corrupt, weak, and immoral state………. Cant we see ……they think and then act …………. they planned and ruled us ………. divided us and left us fighting for ever ………when they had to launch their products …. u could have seen how all of a sudden ………….indian women had became d most beautiful on the globe winning titles after titles………………. Glamour was injected in our blood streams …………… and now when our Indian enterprenuers are bringing the glory back home …………. how can they remian silent ………… GLory to India ………. that is the last thing they can have on earth…………….they are more than happy to tarnish this glory by ‘applauding’ a book by an indian, about india, about indians ……….. showing the hideous under belly of them ………………….

    Mr. Adiga in your heart do you really accept that ?? be honest ……………. Tatas ……Bajaj……..Narayan Murthy ………In ur eyes, are all these men with the same under belly as Balram Halwai preneurs………… ???

    Mr. Adiga ………. I m nt saying all these just b’coz ‘I luv my mother country and could not tolerate a word against it’ …….. but b’coz I think your book is too biased ………. too much ……. to the exetent where a sincere criticism has become an open mockery…… as if some personal experience by a child in its childhood has prepared enough venom in the mind of a great author(yes i mean it) all those days to make him write so cruel lop sided account of his country …………….. I dont give a damn to these outsdiers who have never got to see the real india ……..but I am really worried for U ………Y u …. a son tarnishing his own mother this way ?? …………… The positive things I am talking about happen in India ……. in your so called ‘dark india’ …….. hands are there holding the torch spreading light in this dark ness ………… ………….. people like u ………… with such a talent could really help in this ………….. as said pen is far mighty than nything else …………….. ur pen could create wonders ……….. spread light ……….. wisdon ………… knowledge ……… millions of people ………………. but for such noble cause I afraid you may not receive a BOOker ………. but only ‘dua’ and ‘satisafaction’ …………. .. so what say Mr Tiger ????

  17. 17 Smita February 2, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    😀 I had loved the book for the sheer fact that it depicts what really exists in society. We tend/ want to ingore the under belly but the fact is that it exists. Like you even I was bothered about the uni deminsional aspect og the book plus Balram’s success story post moving out of Delhi looks too hurried & sudden.

    I have started reading his 2nd books (It is a collection of short stories so am taking my own sweet time) and liking it as well. That too is a dark book.

    Yet to read the link u have given, bookmarked it for now 🙂

  18. 18 dinu February 2, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    I think this had a Slum Dog Millionare kind acceptance from western world. ……. what you think ?

  19. 19 Poonam Sharma February 2, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    @Arpit: Khushwant Singh’s all book have soft porn. Each and every one except non-fiction that he writes. Ok. I will check out Mrinal Pandey. Thanks for the recommendation. :)As for Adiga’s book, though it is set in Delhi, you will be disappointed if you look for Delhi in this book. There is none of it. It could be any city. Delhi was just a amtter of convenience.

    @Dev: You are definitely very upset at putting your money on this book. I take a middl ground, as while I read it kept me engrossed. Though there is nothing I take from the book.

    Spoilers ahead

    @Roop: Your friend is right. This was a pathetic twist in story, as if all amitious poor are murderers.

    @Amit: I gave 3.5 rating only because it is readable. You arent losing anything if you pass this book. You can read the short story instead. THe thought process is similar to the novel minus stupid twists.

    @ashine: Such a huge comment. Phew! yes, I do agre with some of your reservations. The book is remarkable unidomensional and focused to bring out rural-urban divide. THanks for the comment!

    @Smita: Just, repeating about the underbelly, in itself cannot be suffiecient merit. How did the book itself aid to the cause of underbelly? Solutions? Suggestions? Book had nothing. Reitreation that underbelly exists, we all have to be blind not to know that. Though I agree book was very readable. I gave it points only for readability and not the content. The book is acceptable as it is entertainment. But I wont go out of the way to call it remarkable when it is not. I hope I am reasonable ins aying that, what say?

    Be sure to remember to read soon, or you wont be ables to access the story without subscription once story is archived.

    @Dinu: Yes, it has similar to Slumdog kind of acceptance. I was disappointed with movie, what about you?

  20. 20 Arpit February 2, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    i read this excerpt from one of his book (khushwant singh) and i really liked it…. and than i went for a complete book and it disappointed me
    right, tell me how it was when you read it 😛

    Sure, I will. Have you read Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan? I liked it, but it too has what you call ‘soft porn’, so beware.

  21. 21 Arpit February 3, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    yes its kept in withering almirah
    i thought of reading it earlier but didnt ….i might consider to read it. oh! “soft porn” i think most book have it….so no such problem but
    in context of “delhi ” it was full of it !

    So thats settled, read it after your boards then. 🙂

  22. 22 manushi February 6, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    ummm….was planning to read it but….lets see…i’ll give it a shot!

  23. 23 Pawan February 6, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    Well i liked the book very much probably because it was the first of its kind i read and I agree with Amit on the FaCT that 3.5 is surely not a good rating for this book.

  24. 24 Yoshay February 8, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    Fantastic review! although i must admit that i loved the book through and through. It came as a fresh relief of a view into the real India as opposed to the very hyped and popular books these days by Indian Authors that centers around private familial affairs or the dilemmas of the NRIs.
    Adiga’s brevity on the other hand struck me as very appealing. Its conciseness counters marvelously with the story line and the one dimensional narrator. The narrator however we must not forget is Balram Halwai a man whose parameters of vocabulary is very narrow owing to the very basic education he received and the man who thrives on telling the story of the life in the best way he can. Its commendable. The fact that the book is intended as one long letter to the Chinese Premier is indeed very striking.

  25. 25 Poonam Sharma February 9, 2009 at 10:56 am

    @Manushi: Sure, tell me what you think about it. 🙂

    @Pawan: To me it was not first of its kind. I gave it 3.5 only because it was readable.

    @Yoshay: Thanks for appreciation, Yoshay. This book was an enjoyable read.

    But this narrative style is not new. Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist is also written as if a Pakistani guy is telling his story to an American in a restaurant. The style is same only protagonists have changed.

    Our poor side has been written about by several writers, only this one does it with wit. I rated it less because our country is not as unidimenstional. Some of the twists are not-so-subtle. They could have been more nuanced.

  26. 26 scorpria August 11, 2009 at 9:49 am

    Heard all that hype and Man Booker thingy and finally grabbed the big. between fighting myself against sleeping off and wondering why he ever wrote the book, i had a tough time reading it — rright from start to end.

    WHY WHY WHY??? Why did he write it? It sucked! But well, now I know even I may get a Booker sometime 😉

  27. 27 Akshay Ahuja October 27, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    I don’t know how I am gonna do this but I really need to give it the try seeing the amount of darkness here.

    “I do not know why author chose Chinese Premier in particular to tell his story. ”

    Well your review or reflection(whatever you choose to call it) of the book starts with this piece. If you couldn’t understand that than in my opinion you failed to grasp the intent of the author in the whole book. The intent was to describe that at what costs a person from darkness(poorest section in society) can achieve the entrepreneurial role in a democratic developing nation fraught with corruption and illiteracy. He chooses to tell this to Chinese premier on his visit to India since China is a developing nation just as India with more or less similar hierarchy in social system.

    “There are faint digs at China at times, but focus of the book is to point out the BIG divide between rich and poor in the country.”
    Your this statement completely brings about your lack of understanding of this book. The purpose was not at all about the divide between poor and rich : it was about the aspirations of a person from poorest section in India who considers and wants himself simply apart from his social circle of drivers and people from darkness (hence the name White Tiger) and decides to go at any length to achieve that.

    “Throw in a murder, suspense is added to the story of ‘Darkness’ in India”
    I dont know where you conjured that idea from of suspense as the murder story is covered in last few(critical) pages of the book.

    Well after reading your juvenile review and more juvenile comments from your followers I was really bewildered to say the least. I have always thought that the advancement of the society depends largely on the art form it produces and more on if there are any takers of that art form. The White Tiger is a gem and its a pity that people from India dont recognize it and it had to be appreciated at foreign lands for us to consider it worth reading.

  28. 28 The other Arvind November 23, 2009 at 10:02 am

    The book started neatlt with a promise of revealing how an entrepreneur makes it big in this country. It keeps on progressing in a nice witty manner. People who can be open enough not to feel offended about the “insulting” remarks on Gods and the poverty portrayal, will actually enjoy the way the book is written.

    However there’s a huge anti-climax in the end, and you somehow feel cheated. Its a feeling akin to watching an entertaining movie till the interval, when suddenly the producer realises that he is out of money, and all he wants to do, is end the movie with the cheapest scenes, scripts and actors. The story is believable till the protogonist comes to Bangalore with a pile of money. I think that’s the moment when Mr Adiga felt a sudden urge to end his book. I definitley lost my interest at this stage, and completed reading the book only to check whether it has any surprises in stock. And sadly there weren’t.

    The book has its glorious moments when it invokes outrage in you on several moments, for example – when he speaks about how the rich family tries to pin a murder on the poor protogonist driver. And i really appreciated the way Mr. Adiga got into the skin of the driver, and spoke so lucidly about his life. I agree with 3.5/5 rating.

  29. 29 Swapnashastra February 23, 2022 at 7:21 pm

    Last night I dreamt of a huge majestic white tiger. He was the pet of someone. I was afraid of him because he was so big. He wanted to play with me and jumped on me. He didn’t realize his own strength and continue to Jump around trying to play with me. In my dream I try to stay calm and show no fear. I knew he did not want to harm me.

  1. 1 Link Diary: January 2009 « Visceral Observations Trackback on January 28, 2009 at 3:29 pm

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