The White Tiger

For Mr Aravind Adiga,
Winner of the 2008 Booker Prize
An annual display of Snobbery

From ‘tuesday’
A lover of literature
Wordpress, Blogland

Mr Adiga,

I am writing to inform you that I have quite belatedly finished your novel, The White Tiger. My journey to the 2008 winner of the Man Booker prize has not been an easy path to travel, and it is a road that has been scattered with disappointment, scepticism and incredulity. You owe thanks to Steve and Salman and all your other Booker  ’08 Buddies, who lowered my expectations considerably. Not that I found The Enchantress of Florence and A Fraction of the Whole particularly cringeworthy; no, not at all. It’s just inevitable that those put upon the Booker pedestal invite higher levels of scrutiny. And, well, they failed to jump the bar the way you so spectacularly did.

(Yes,  ‘jump’ the bar, not ‘raise’ the bar)

The second best thing about the Booker Prize is that it compels readers, who would never otherwise consider your work, to do exactly that. I consider myself a fair and open-minded reader, but stories of entrepeneurs and murders don’t normally interest me.  How then did I come to read your novel? I’m of a weak sort of character – indecisive, easily impressionable, immensely curious… (the latter led me to read that abomination of a book, Twilight)

“It’s really good, I swear”

“No, I’ll pass. I don’t have to read a book just ‘cos it won the Booker, you know.”

“No, read it. You have to.”

“Okay.”

I digress. Let me talk more about the book itself.  You probably don’t need me to tell you about your own book, but hear me out. The genius of it lies in its apparent simplicity. So simple it stuns. Who knew that the epistolary form could be used so effectively, and with such simplicity and ingenuity? Who knew that such a humble, colloquial voice could so clearly portray the Light and Darkness of post-colonial India, and its Rooster Coop caste system? Good analogy there, by the way, Mr Adiga.

I like the way the Guardian review compares your work to Great Expectations, or at least, with the author of that particular rags-to-riches tale.

There is “a kind of continuous murmur or growl beneath middle-class life in India, and this noise never gets recorded”. Like a modern-day Dickens, Adiga attempts to give literary voice to that growl. Like a modern-day Dickens, Adiga attempts to give literary voice to that growl.

Although I’m a fan of Romanticism and all that jazz, it was refreshing to see an author bluntly – though none too subtly – present an India with both its merits and flaws. Your White Tiger is truly an almost seamless piece of work. It’s just that the verisimilitude is occasionally shattered by the in-your-face-ness. At times, I’m afraid I cringed at your lack of subtlety and at the overworked pretentiousness of your prose:

“So do we loathe our masters behind a façade of love – or do we love them behind a façade of loathing?”

And the humour. Boy, was this one close to becoming another Fraction of the Whole – too much wit for its own good. Nevertheless, it was the lightness of tone that saved the book from becoming overtly pathos. Simple, but it worked. This, for instance, captures the tragedy of India’s poor so eloquently, whilst being humorous in tone:

“Munna? That’s not a real name.”
He was right: it just means ‘boy’.
“That’s all I’ve got, sir,” I said.
It was true. i’d never been given a name.
“Didn’t your mother name you?”
“She’s very ill, sir. She lies in bed and spews blood. She’s got no time to name me.”
“And your father?”
“He’s a rickshaw-puller, sir. He’s got no time to name me.”

It’s a shame, though, that despite your brains (I hear that during your time in Sydney, you attended James Ruse HS) you fail to understand the subtleties of the Christian religion. The Trinity are One but Three. Not three separate divinities. You do the math.

36000004 – 2 = ?

Now let’s talk about the really bad bit. The Booker bit. I’m going to be honest with you, Mr Adiga, and say that while White Tiger is an impressive debut novel, do I think it deserves the Man Booker prize? Not really. Well, that’s actually a hard question to answer. Maybe (most probably) your book was just the most decent of the lot. I can’t say for sure because I only read three of the other finalists:

  • A Fraction of the Whole, Steve Toltz
  • The Lost Dog, Michelle de Kretser
  • The Enchantress of Florence, Salman Rushdie

I kind of gave up on the others at this point, but decided yours could be their saving grace. In the end, I’m not sure it matters. It’s all a load of tosh. All books are worth reading, even if it is so you can rightfully critique them, and abuse them (Twilight, yet again). Your book was entertaining and informative and it had me up all night reading and reading and reading, and that’s something I hadn’t done in a while. So thank you, Mr Adiga, for reviving my appetite. I’m not sure I’ll be looking forward to your next novel; second novels are so very dangerous. Hopefully, you’ll be able to break out of your White Tiger mindset, and show us that you are truly an entrepeneur of the boldest kind.

Yours sincerely,
‘tuesday’
Resident book reviewer
Of tuesday in silhouette
tuesdayinsilhouette@gmail.com

P.S. We have established that the second best thing about the Booker is the wide audience it pools in. What, then, is the first? Why, the prize money of course! I know you’re all thinking it: you can’t put a price on literature, but thousands of dollars is never a bad thing.

» The White Tiger was chosen as my Distance book for the 9 for 09 project. Mumbai, India where Aravind Adiga currently lives, is 6308 miles away from Australia, so it falls well into the 1000+ mile criteria.

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23 thoughts on “The White Tiger

  1. It’s really far from you.

    You must be close to finishing your 5th book. Make sure to sign up for the prizes that will be given out on 8/29

    Hope the 2009 choices are better!

    1. Isabel – I lost count, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t read five yet! I think this might have been my third one. Next is War and Peace, or maybe Much Ado About Nothing :)

  2. Love the letter format! This is one that I plan to read this year, and I must confess I had never heard of it until it won the Booker. Awards to tend to make me feel compelled to read a book, if only to be a part of the discussion and to see what is designated as valuable by certain groups.

    1. Chain Reader – Do read it; I think you’ll like it if you don’t have any preconceptions or expectations beforehand. I didn’t expect to like it, and so I liked it – complete opposite of ‘A Fraction of the Whole’.

  3. Brilliant revew! I agree with you that it may not be quite good enough for the Booker, but it’s still quite good. The epistolary format was one of the most charming things about it.

  4. I’m glad to hear you liked the book (doing a marathon read certainly suggests as much!). As I said, I have this on my reading roster once it comes in from the library (I’m trying to read all the books competing in the Tournament of Books held by The Morning News… this is one of them). So far I’ve had middling success with the books that have been available to me, so hopefully this might be one I’ll enjoy. I’ll try to keep my expectations from soaring!

    1. Steph – good luck, hahah. I had to wait almost three months for this book to come in from the library, b/c the reservation list was so long. I think there are still nineteen (or more) people in line behind me. I think you’ll find it hard to be disappointed in this book; it has a way of growing on you.

  5. I’m actually next in line for the book at the library (and there are only 10 other holds on it…), so I might even get it this weekend (we’ll see). I guess Nashville is not much of a reading city (which is my personal gain!).

  6. I like The Clothes on Their backs more than this one, which I liked as well. The voice is what makes this book stand out, but I like the story of The Clothes on Their Backs. The next one up is The Secret Scripture.

    1. Yep, it’s definitely the style of narration that sets this book apart. Now I’m really looking forward to reading Clothes on their Backs. I’ve heard a lot of good things about The Secret Scripture too :)

  7. I didn’t expect to like this one and read it b/c I was given it for Christmas. And I don’t know if I like it – but I was certainly engaged and sickened and humoured and enlightened by the story. The tone, the author’s voice, I found a bit brash but when I found myself thinkning about it all the time when away from it I realised it had gripped me.

    I was also interested in the whole India thing as had watched Slumdog Millionaire the week before. Seen it anyone? It was brilliant.

    1. Nico – sounds just like the experience I had. As I mentioned before, this book sort of grew on me, and I definitely found it engaging. Haven’t seen Slumdog Millionaire yet, though everyone is talking about it these days. Maybe I’ll go watch it next week.

    1. Hey Zawan, I read before bed – usually about ten to fifteen minutes before I sleep. If the book is engaging enough, I’ll stay up to read, but that’s not usually the case. I read a lot on trains and buses. If the weather’s nice on weekends, I sometimes sit in the garden on my favourite deck chair and read.

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