Like Britain during the 19th century Industrial Revolution, Indian society is going through wrenching changes as the country rapidly industrializes and people migrate from the rural areas to the cities in search of new employment opportunities. The only real difference is that the transformation taking place in India is happening on a much more massive scale involving tens, if not hundreds of millions of people, and at a much faster rate.
And just as the Industrial Revolution in Britain produced some of the world’s greatest writers such as Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy, so too is India’s transformation leading to the emergence of a new generation of highly talented authors, including Aravind Adiga who announced his arrival on the scene with his debut novel, The White Tiger.
This is an angry and brutal yet viciously funny first-person account of the rise of a son of a rickshaw pillar born in a small village in the “dark country” who through a combination of luck and cunning rises up to the position of driver in a rich family and then becomes a successful entrepreneur in Bangalore after murdering his master and running away with his money.
The protagonist tells his story in the form of a long letter to Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, and with searing honesty and dark humor describes the grinding indignities and poverty suffered by the poor in their daily struggle for survival and the small victories they occasionally savor in their constant battle with the rich and corrupt landlords, industrialists, and politicians that control their destiny.
The portrait of the poor that Adiga presents is unvarnished and pulls absolutely no punches in illustrating the helplessness of the position that many of them are in. At the same time, Adiga highlights and lampoons the luxurious and ostentatious lifestyles of the wealthy, painting a rich and vivid picture of the tensions that are rising in Indian society and are leading to the emergence of growing threats to social stability such as the Naxalite movement.
Powerful and provocative, The White Tiger is an extremely compelling read. I would definitely recommend it.