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.
This was a debut novel by this author, which immediately won the Man Booker Prize in 2008. It provides a darkly humorous perspective of India’s class struggle in a globalized world, examining issues of religion, caste, loyalty, family, corruption and poverty in India. It begs to be compared to another book about India which I read years ago called A Fine Balance by Canadian author Rohinton Mistry. Both books achieve the same insight but in very different ways.
This novel gets at some hard truths without judgement or sentimentality which I appreciated and I found it to be a hugely compelling and enjoyable story. It is upbeat, pithy, sharp and fast-paced. In contrast, Mistry’s book, though beautifully written, was quite heavy and depressing. Actually this one is just as depressing in what it reveals about India, but because I found it funny, it made it so very readable. Just like The Simpsons, whether you like it or hate it (and most people seem to be in one camp or the other), does get at uncomfortable truths using humour. Whether you enjoy that humour is, of course, a personal matter. Here is an interesting article from The Guardian about this controversial novel and an interview with the author: