Tag Archives: India

‘The White Tiger’ by Aravind Adiga

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:

‘Secret Daughter’, by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Here is a story to be enjoyed. Though not exceptionally well written or nuanced, it is very readable and compelling. It’s about mothers, and moves back and forth between Indian and American cultures.  It’s alot about who we are and how we find our roots. It’s about love and loss and family. There is the poignancy of Kavita, a poor mother in India, giving her girl child up for adoption because there is simply no other option. And Somer, an infertile mother who adopts a child from another culture and struggles to raise Asha as her own. It deals with the isolation of culture shock, the loss of identity in immigration,  and the mystery of family and how a sense of belonging develops in us.

There is a lot about India in this novel: descriptions of food, how to wrap a sari, Mumbai slums, eyebrow threading, the art of henna, elaborate family gatherings and weddings. In fact the descriptions of India make America seem bland indeed. Pass the hot sauce. But it gets deeper than that. There are  Two Indias: for rich and poor, and for men and women. “Mother India does not love all her children equally, it seems”. (p. 229)

This book grew on me. The characters could have had more depth, especially the men, and at times it seemed predictable and stereotypical. But when the story didn’t take the trite turns that I thought it would, I was refreshed. This would be a great selection for a book club. The story keeps moving while you stay rooted firmly in your easy chair, and later there are interesting things to talk about.