Book: White Tiger

White Tiger
Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2008

Simple, funny, ironic portrait of rural India.
318 pages, ★★★★

White Tiger is a novel set in modern-day rural India. Protagonist Balram Halwai narrates the story as a series of rambling, off-topic letters to former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (the reason for which, other than for humor’s sake, is never made clear). His letters are fully-loaded with irony and cute mistakes.

White Tiger begins with a letter addressed to, “the freedom-loving people of China”. On page 28, the author introduces rural India (a.k.a. the “Darkness”), where, ironically, the “[daily] buses are never late, at least not by more than an hour or two”. On page 73-74, the author shows us his local bar menu, which is ironically calculated so that two half-drinks are cheaper than one whole. On page 126, his description and ironic analysis of the social effects of Murder Weekly Magazine surprises us: “it is when your people start reading Ghandi and Buddha that you should be worried, Mr Premier”. On page 225, we learn how the Indian poor aspire to look rich (fat and white), and, ironically, how the Indian rich aspire to look poor (dark and skinny). Inbreeding is mocked with the use of the terms “cousin-sister” (page 28) and “sister-fucker” (page 34) throughout. Comically, the author’s letter-writing etiquette also dwindles: by page 45, the author addresses the Premier erroneously as, Mr Jiabao, and begins his third letter with the opening line, “So.” Irony and wit prevail.

The story was less important to me than the description of rural India. We could read deeper meaning into White Tiger (about the Indian caste system, about China-India relations, about poverty, development, Westernisation, morality, or justice, etc.), but I feel that would be unnecessary. Instead, just enjoy the vivid description in White Tiger: that earns four stars in itself. ★★★★

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