Balram Halwai is a modern-day Indian hero, a successful entrepreneur, and a confessed but unrepentant murderer. He is also the narrator off this fascinating but off the wall tale and Aravind Adiga’s first novel, The White Tiger.
Over seven late night letters written to a visiting Chinese premier (don’t ask, I’m not sure I could explain), Balram tells his life story, including: how he came by his many names, the teacher who first called him “the White Tiger,” his first job in a tea house, learning to drive and becoming a chauffeur, and finally, stealing his master’s money and killing him by the side of the road.
In the process, he also introduces you to modern-day India, and the contrast between the lives of the few rich and the many poor, between life in The Darkness and life in The Light. (This portrayal of the country did not win him many friends at home it seems.)
Balram is not an easy character to like. He is at times downtrodden and pitiable, but mostly harsh, moody and selfish, with an unending stream of justifications for the bad things he has done. Yet his story is as engaging as it is provocative.
I was gifted a copy of this novel in the Fall of 2008, on a train from Winnipeg to Churchill, MB. I had just made friends with another young, solo traveller and we compared notes on what we were reading. Having just completed and enjoyed The White Tiger, she offered me her copy. I thanked her and had every intention of starting it when I finished whatever I had brought with me, but as it turned out, we spent most of our 4 nights in town together, sharing a drink at one or another of the town’s two “bars” and I read very little. The book came home, went on my shelf, and was continually passed over for other choices until I added it to my 2011 TBR list. I can’t believe it took me this long to finally read it. Shame on me.
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada; 5th edition (Oct 14 2008)