23 September 2009

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

WIN Club Book Discussion
I’ve always felt privileged to be part of this book discussion group, where you have people who grew up reading Irish books, or American books, or books in French, German, Russian and other languages, and this often throws a completely unexpected light on something you read. Yesterday we met at Armity’s to talk about The White Tiger, the outsider that won the 2008 Booker Prize.
This book is written in the form of letters to the “Chinese Premier” just before he visits India. The writer is Balram, a boy from a poor family in a village in north India, in what he calls “the Darkness”. Through the letters we learn about his life, dreams, lack of education, what it means to get out of “the Darkness”, the class and caste divides in India, and the two most important and publicized differences between China and India (the two great emerging nations of the world!) democracy and entrepreneurship, their true meaning and how they really work.
It’s very well written and easy to read, and the dark satire is enjoyable but also creates a pall of gloom.
Of the 22 at the meeting, about 8 or 9 had read the book and though most said they admired its style, concept and unique presentation, only 2 said they had actually enjoyed it.
One of the questions discussed was whether people believed the premise of the story and most, even those who were new to India, said that yes, it made them very depressed and all but
they did believe it.
Erika then mentioned that she’d had a mail from a German friend that Adiga had been quoted in a German publication saying that he was really irritated that people were taking the book so literally when he had actually meant it to be a kind of allegory!
We talked about whether we would give our drivers the book to read and I had to confess that I’d lent my copy to Satoor who is an amazing person – a philosopher and orator if there ever was one, and really more of a friend since he’s not an employee and only drives me sometimes; we spend all our journeys together trying hard to educate each other – but he’d given it back saying thank you very much but he could make no sense of it.
Then Sunita pointed out that we have a club but our drivers have a club too! Everyone agreed that they’re sitting out there and may well be talking about what they heard us artlessly revealing as we chattered away reclining grandly in the back seat imagining ourselves alone!

Gladys said she thought it was a good book and pointed out the way in which the characters had been developed, slowly transforming in a very believable way as we turned the pages.
Nicole, who is Dutch, then endeared herself to me forever by saying how she herself had changed so much since coming to India and just couldn’t believe that she was now quite capable of screaming in anger at some poor woman and thinking herself justified (“she can’t even CLEAN properly!!”) And I think I’d have liked this book even if it hadn’t won the Booker, because it made me think a little about how I treat my own domestic employees.

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