Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My faith in the Man Booker restored

Well, it looks like I need to start paying attention to the Man Booker Prize again. Aravind Adiga's White Tiger won the 2008 award and it is flat out awesome. It manages to be both a hilarious and troubling meditation on the brutal inequities in today's India.

The White Tiger of the title is Balram Halwai, a murderer, former servant and now an entrepreneur, as he puts it. His dark story is told in a series of letters written to the premier of China, coming to visit India. In these letters, he slowly reveals his experiences, including his crimes and then his surprising fate. It is the story of one who escapes the Chicken Coop, where Halwai says, the vast majority of Indians live. Like chickens waiting for slaughter, Indians accept their unfortunate lot in life while the rich and powerful torment, abuse and steam roller them. As white tigers are rare, so is the entrepreneur like Balram who breaks free.

The criticisms of India are myriad. The value and reality of India's democracy is called into constant question. Adiga certainly seems to argue that the downtrodden have no rights in both India and China, but at least in China their living standards are improving. There is also the notion that one must be an extreme rule-breaker, as in Balram's case, to actually change your lot in life.

All that makes it sound a bit, or even quite a bit, heavy. Not the case! Despite the subject matter, it has an almost breezy feel, as Adiga pulls in slapstick and observational humor. Despite being wicked, his narrator is quite amusing and his takes on the ruling class of his village are acidly funny. Also, this book is short. I really appreciate someone who can tell the tale in under 300 pages. All in all, a great book.


Citizen Reader said...

Holy buckets, you're posting way faster than I can keep up! Just wanted to second the love on "White Tiger"--I expected to hate it, as I do nearly all Booker winners and nominees (with the exception of my main and creepy man Ian McEwan), and was so pleasantly surprised when it was evil and twisty and fabulous. I think it would pair nicely with some good nonfiction about India. What do you think?

Tripp said...

I think it would go very well with something with a bit more sanguine view of the country, as sheesh it is bleak. Maybe In Spite of the Gods.