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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Recommended Reading: "The White Tiger" by Aravind Adiga

Aravind Adiga's excellent novel, The White Tiger, is set in India during the economic expansion it has enjoyed in recent years. The story takes place where the economic boom has not brought prosperity and highlights a vast gulf remaining between the haves and the many desperate have-nots.

The story's protagonist is Balram Halwai. Balram runs a taxi business in Bangalore. His business operates at night, transporting employees home from their jobs at area call centers. Over several nights at the office, he writes a letter outlining his life story to the premier of China, who is scheduled to visit India. This may seem like an odd activity for a small businessman, but a cat may look at a King. Balram, egotistical and worldly-wise from achieving success grounded on criminal acts and resulting in the sacrifice of his family, wants to communicate what he believes is the real scoop on India.

Balram, who is alternately droll, sarcastic, dark and angry, tells an interesting story. He is born into a poor family in a poor village. Although smart, he must drop out of school to start earning money. He soon begins to calculate how to get out of what he calls "the Rooster coop", the metaphorical cage in which the poor are trapped in their station, held hostage by threats from the powerful and loyalty to family.

He starts his climb in the world by figuring out a way to get a job as a chauffeur for the family of a landlord/businessman. The employer is rich and corrupt. Balram is little more than a slave. Ambitious, he wants a piece of the pie for himself. How does one get out of the Rooster cage? It turns out that spying, blackmail, eavesdropping, and a spot of violent crime are the answer.

The White Tiger is an engaging story set in an important area of our 21st century world. It won the 2008 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

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