Literary Fiction

The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga

13 June 2019
The White Tiger Book Cover The White Tiger
Aravind Adiga
Atlantic Books

Balram Halwai is the White Tiger - the smartest boy in his village. His family is too poor for him to afford for him to finish school and he has to work in a teashop, breaking coals and wiping tables. But Balram gets his break when a rich man hires him as a chauffeur, and takes him to live in Delhi. The city is a revelation. As he drives his master to shopping malls and call centres, Balram becomes increasingly aware of immense wealth and opportunity all around him, while knowing that he will never be able to gain access to that world. As Balram broods over his situation, he realizes that there is only one way he can become part of this glamorous new India - by murdering his master. The White Tiger presents a raw and unromanticised India, both thrilling and shocking - from the desperate, almost lawless villages along the Ganges, to the booming Wild South of Bangalore and its technology and outsourcing centres. The first-person confession of a murderer, The White Tiger is as compelling for its subject matter as for the voice of its narrator - amoral, cynical, unrepentant, yet deeply endearing.


The White Tiger is a contemporary fictional account of ambition and the life options available to a person in the rigid and harsh class-based society of India, which is administered through unbridled corruption.

Aravind Adiga came along with the wave of fantastic Indian authors providing insights into their country and the restraints that shackle them to their caste system. As India transitions from a third world country to a world leader in science and technology output, it is struggling to modernise with regards equal opportunity, and equal quality of life for many of its citizens. An interesting statistic is that by 2025 India will surpass China as the largest populated country in the world. India’s transformation in technology, population and equality are on a major societal collision. A collision where dispassionate and amoral exploitation festers and grows.

Balram Halwai, The White Tiger, writes a series of letters to the Chinese President on the eve of his visit to India. In the letters he explains the differences between the two countries in terms of democracy and economic vision, then his letters unfold into a confessional statement of how he has tried to advance his career. 

Balram is a chauffeur to a rich businessman in Delhi where he is exposed to wealth and a lifestyle that he believes he can only obtain if he commits certain crimes. The extremes of wealth and opportunities are so clearly presented and the book does not hide from these disparities. The story is cleverly written with great dialogue that treats us to dark humour with striking rawness. The characters and backdrop are vividly written and you feel sympathy and encouragement for the entrepreneurial Balram in a narrative that pulls no punches. 

The White Tiger is the 2008 Booker Prize Winner and while many may feel it doesn’t deserve that accolade, including me, it is still a book well worth reading. It portrays an India in its rudimentary form, and its polarised societal structure illustrates how ambition, corruption and value, attributed to life, are so unique. It is a powerful contemporary story that I would recommend.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley

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