The White Tiger: A Novel

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga I will start this short review with two equally little confessions. First, I know next to nothing about India, and second, when I picked this book up I was under the very mistaken impression that it was an urban-fantasy book. Luckily my ignorance of the setting was not so great as to have kept me under this impression past the first chapter or so, otherwise I'm sure I would have been pretty disappointed in the gritty realism (I think it's realism) of the story.

There is no supernatural here. From what I have heard, some parts may be exaggerated and others skimmed over, but this is as much a social commentary on India (and the rest of the world, really) as it is a tale of an "entrepreneurial" underdog.

I don't have any particular love for unlikeable characters. That may seem a null and void statement, but judging by the number of much-adored books with detestable main characters - both intentional ([b:The Catcher in the Rye|5107|The Catcher in the Rye|J.D. Salinger||3036731]) and unintentional ([b:Twilight|41865|Twilight (Twilight, #1)|Stephenie Meyer||3212258]) - it's a fairly valid comment. However I found this book to have one of those rare cases: the likeable unlikeable character. Balram is pretty awful a lot of the time. He's either weak and pathetic (yes, I am aware that this is hugely due to social conditioning) or selfish, vulgar and even cruel. The circumstances of his life account for much of it, but not all. He also has enough redeeming features to make him actually worth caring about, in the end - hence the "likeable-unlikeable" quality.

I found the style of writing engrossing, as much as the story itself, and even though we are told the outcome of the plot pretty much at the very beginning, I still could not put it down in desperation to know what would happen. The imagery is evocative, though again my ignorance of the culture means I have no idea of the depth of realism in this.

It certainly isn't an uplifting story. Yes, there is murder - this really isn't a spoiler, it even says so on in the cover blurb - "Blurb" - good word that. Blurb. (I may have been watching too much Miranda... But I digress.) but there is also extreme poverty, cruelty, evocative descriptions of third-world living conditions that may not appeal to certain readers (I am aware of how wrong the word "appeal" is in this context). But it does, I think, what it sets out to do: entertain while provoking serious thought.

Highly recommended.