Sunday, 10 January 2010
Author Aravind Adiga
Publisher HarperCollins India
Release Date Out Now
The White Tiger won the 2008 Booker prize, at a time when interest in all things India had really come to a boil, both through the shifting balance of power in world economies, and in the popular media with films like Slumdog Millionaire. Reading this now in hindsight however, one has to wonder if there's really anything more to this success and hype of this book than the good timing of its publication.
This book tells the story of Balram Halwai, a young street urchin from India who rises up to become a "success". This is told to the reader, peculiarly, through a series of letters Balram is writing to the Premier of China on the subject of entrepreneurship.
Now, at first I found this book pretty interesting. There were many intriguing themes relevant to current events and the changing world, tackled with a fresh perspective. Adiga presents the ascent of India and China in the world economy, relative to the decline in western nations, but goes on to expose the underlying corruption and inequalities that still mar these countries. All of this is presented with some wit and clever observations.
When this book came out, people hailed this fresh take as "an insider's exposé" on an up and coming nation, from a real Indian giving us his real insight and wisdom. But this is VERY a dishonest and misleading tact towards marketing a book. The author Aravind Adiga was indeed born in India, but in wealthy surroundings, and emigrated when he was just a little lad, and has lived in developed nations Australia and America ever since. He's as much an outsider as us really, and suddenly all his "brilliant" insights and observations suddenly seem a lot more superficial and unresearched, which is exactly what they are.
The bigger worry, however, is the book's failings as a novel. That short paragraph I gave you a moment ago about the themes in this book, that's pretty much it. The author seeks to challenge our perceptions of India by presenting to us a series of unsettling and off-putting situations, and that is pretty much all he does.
The author doesn't really delve any deeper into these themes, or develop his ideas. Any decently educated reader will have got the gist after about 100 pages, and yet he continues for another 200, basically flogging the reader around the head with the same point over and over again, almost like it's for shock value rather than any actual reason.
And the thing is, I could accept this, I would be fine with this superficiality, if it told a decently engaging story, but it doesn't. The plot is short and padded out, and the characterisation is pretty much non-existent; indeed most of the characters are one dimensional tools which serve merely as a vehicle with which to convey the author's political message. And of course, that would be fine also if he had more than just the one interesting, but superficial idea to keep throwing at the reader in an unsubtle manner. But he doesn't, and so you see my issue here. This is a book in which the author has made a decision to leave the story and character in the background in order to make a sociopolitical statement, which is itself lacking.
Now this is not a terrible book. The author has decent writing technique, it is at times amusing and witty, and it has at least one interesting, if undeveloped, thought behind it. The problem is that this is a book which clearly thinks it is a lot better, a lot deeper and more meaningful, than it actually is.