Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The White Tiger

If you've been following this blog, you'll have seen that I've been hammering through quite a few books here this week. Partly this is a backlog which owes its existence to my laziness and earth-shattering powers of procrastination, but partly it's because I went on holiday a couple of weeks ago with the family. I've found that I go through a pile of books on holiday, especially in the tropics. There is something absolutely delightful about sitting back with a book on a veranda or on a couch, with warm sea breezes flowing past, and the smell of Ocean pervading everything.

The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga, was a perfect book for the occasion. I started reading it down here in the icy wastes of Sydney, but the book works better in the warmth of the tropics.

It's a rather harsh book to read, and you're left feeling rather ambivalent about the characters. The protagonist, Balram Halwai, describes himself as an entrepreneur, and this book is his explanation of how he got to where he is now, the owner of a thriving small business, from his poor rural background. And how he murdered his master, Ashok.

It's written with the voice of a poorly education Indian man, and the feeling of the underside of India's democratic success comes through powerfully. You feel the omnipresent sweaty heat, the oppression and hopelessness of the poor, the corruption, the anger, the tawdriness, and the cheapness of life in a developing country. Elections are a mockery, and the poor don't really even consider that they have any say in this at all. Once in a while one of them stands up to his superiors, and is promptly beaten down. It shows you that a poor rural boy can become a success, but the cost of success is his integrity. And that in a society like this there really isn't any such thing as integrity, or at least it doesn't exist without being intertwined with corruption.

Each time I read one of these Man Booker prize winners, I'm left somewhat stunned by the experience. They know what they're talking about when they hand those things out.

No comments: