The White Tiger

Written as a series of letters from a "true Indian entrepreneur" to the Premier of China (all of which are written over the course of a week, mostly after midnight), The White Tiger tells the story of Balram Halwai's life from his childhood in "the Darkness" (rural India where electricity and education are scarce) to his eventual rise to be an Indian businessman with his own employees and blood on his hands. From the beginning, he lets the reader know that he is a murderer and that he killed his master, and so you're left to make what you will of his up-front confession as you discover what led up to such actions.

This novel deals with a lot of issues confronting India (and indeed, probably a good part of the world that sees itself divided into the haves and have-nots). At the forefront is the intense social class divide and the feelings of anger and entrapment that result. The idea of being caged and trapped in a caste or in a situation is crucial here. Balram is called out early in his life as a "White Tiger" by a school auditor when he displays all that he has learned from his studies. This idea, that he is a "creature born once every generation," fixes itself in his mind and is what he uses to press onward and upward. Balram also discusses the rooster coop -- his metaphor for life, full of the trapped souls who cannot envision a world outside of their cramped existence, even as they witness others killed and sacrificed. He quotes poets in his struggle to escape the rooster cage and be a white tiger, awake in a world of those who are still sleeping.

On the whole, I enjoyed this and feel like its portrait of India in social turmoil will stay with me for quite some time. This was my selection for book club -- well, one of the several that I presented, and of course, everyone was gung-ho about this one, the one I didn't own already. The cover touts comparisons to Invisible Man and such, but I'm not quite sure I felt that this had the same amount of depth, or perhaps that's simply because this book was so short in comparison to other novels of social inequalities. Certainly, it was a very interesting book and I liked the narrative voice -- it made for a rather quick read but as a result, I think it might have undercut its importance to some degree.

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