Summary and book reviews of The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger

A Novel

by Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2008, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2008, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

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About this Book

Book Summary

Balram Halwai is a complicated man. Servant. Philosopher. Entrepreneur. Murderer. Balram tells us the terrible and transfixing story of how he came to be a success in life - having nothing but his own wits to help him along.

Introducing a major literary talent, The White Tiger offers a story of coruscating wit, blistering suspense, and questionable morality, told by the most volatile, captivating, and utterly inimitable narrator that this millennium has yet seen.

Balram Halwai is a complicated man. Servant. Philosopher. Entrepreneur. Murderer. Over the course of seven nights, by the scattered light of a preposterous chandelier, Balram tells us the terrible and transfixing story of how he came to be a success in life -- having nothing but his own wits to help him along.

Born in the dark heart of India, Balram gets a break when he is hired as a driver for his village's wealthiest man, two house Pomeranians (Puddles and Cuddles), and the rich man's (very unlucky) son. From behind the wheel of their Honda City car, Balram's new world is a revelation. While his peers flip through the pages of Murder Weekly ("Love -- Rape -- Revenge!"), barter for girls, drink liquor (Thunderbolt), and perpetuate the Great Rooster Coop of Indian society, Balram watches his employers bribe foreign ministers for tax breaks, barter for girls, drink liquor (single-malt whiskey), and play their own role in the Rooster Coop. Balram learns how to siphon gas, deal with corrupt mechanics, and refill and resell Johnnie Walker Black Label bottles (all but one). He also finds a way out of the Coop that no one else inside it can perceive.

Balram's eyes penetrate India as few outsiders can: the cockroaches and the call centers; the prostitutes and the worshippers; the ancient and Internet cultures; the water buffalo and, trapped in so many kinds of cages that escape is (almost) impossible, the white tiger. And with a charisma as undeniable as it is unexpected, Balram teaches us that religion doesn't create virtue, and money doesn't solve every problem -- but decency can still be found in a corrupt world, and you can get what you want out of life if you eavesdrop on the right conversations.

Sold in sixteen countries around the world, The White Tiger recalls The Death of Vishnu and Bangkok 8 in ambition, scope, and narrative genius, with a mischief and personality all its own. Amoral, irreverent, deeply endearing, and utterly contemporary, this novel is an international publishing sensation -- and a startling, provocative debut.

The First Night

For the Desk of:

His Excellency Wen Jiabao
The Premier's Office
Beijing
Capital of the Freedom-loving Nation of China



From the Desk of:

"The White Tiger"
A Thinking Man
And an Entrepreneur
Living in the world's center of Technology and Outsourcing
Electronics City Phase 1 (just off Hosur Main Road)
Bangalore, India



Mr. Premier,

Sir.

Neither you nor I speak English, but there are some things that can be said only in English.

My ex-employer the late Mr. Ashok's ex-wife, Pinky Madam, taught me one of these things; and at 11:32 p.m. today, which was about ten minutes ago, when the lady on All India Radio announced, "Premier Jiabao is coming to Bangalore next week," I said that thing at once.

In fact, each time when great men like you visit our country I say it. Not that I have anything against great men. In my way, sir, I consider myself one of your kind. But whenever I see our prime minister and his ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The author chose to tell the story from the provocative point of view of an exceedingly charming, egotistical admitted murderer. Do Balram's ambition and charisma make his vision clearer? More vivid? Did he win you over?

  2. Why does Balram choose to address the Premier? What motivates him to tell his story? What similarities does he see between himself and the Premier?

  3. Because of his lack of education, Ashok calls Balram "half-baked." What does he mean by this? How does Balram go about educating himself? What does he learn?

  4. Balram variously describes himself as "a man of action and change," "a thinking man," "an entrepreneur," "a man who sees tomorrow," and a "murderer." Is any one of these labels the most fitting, or is he too ...
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  • award image

    Man Booker Prize
    2008

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Adiga's novel is hilarious and impolite, a fabulous counterpoint to some of the beautiful, lyrical Indian novels that have surfaced in the past decade. Adiga does not sugarcoat Balram's view of India, and the result is a true, unique view of a country we may have thought we understood.   (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

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Media Reviews

School Library Journal

Balram's evolution from likable village boy to cold-blooded killer is fascinating and believable. Even more surprising is how well the narrative works in the way it's written as a letter to the Chinese premier, who's set to visit Bangalore, India.

Kirkus Reviews

His commentary on all things Indian comes at the expense of narrative suspense and character development. ....Adiga's pacing is off too, as Balram too quickly reinvents himself in Bangalore, where every cop can be bought. An undisciplined debut, but one with plenty of vitality.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. It's the perfect antidote to lyrical India.

Reader Reviews

VaMpIreLuVeR

REALLY Worth IT
Wow. This book is simply amazing. It gave me a new view of India, and the conflict between the rich and the poor. :) I highly recommend it!

Mary

OUTSTANDING
By far the BEST BOOK I have read in 2008. Extremely creative, at times funny, and a good luck at what it takes to be a "successful entrepreneur". LOVED IT!

Rizwan

A mindblowing story
The White Tiger - it is a fabulous story. It is really about a real Indian Balram Halwai. I think this book must win Oscar also. :-)

jennie

White Tiger
I enjoyed the book,it was thought provoking and at times unsettling,at others warm and humorous. How realistic an account it is of Indian society today I don't know. Certainly the most readable Booker prize winner I've read to date.

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Beyond the Book

The Caste System

Without his violent act, Balram Halwai would have had trouble accessing upward social mobility because of the strict caste system in India. Many Westerners believe, because India is officially a democracy and the Indian constitution of 1949 banned it, that the caste system is a thing of the past, but in many aspects of Indian society, it is alive and well.

There are four castes or varnas:

  • Brahmins, teachers, scholars, and priests
  • Kshatriyas, kings and warriors
  • Vaishyas, traders
  • Shudras, agriculturists, service providers, and select artisan groups.

Below these main castes, and traditionally excluded from larger society, is the group formerly called the Untouchables, now ...

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