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The White Tiger: A Novel
Free Press, 2008
304 pp., $16.00
Read Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger, and a month later, maybe less, I suspect that you will remember this novel only impressionistically. You will remember having enjoyed it. You will remember that it took place in India and that its narrator, the chauffeur-turnedentrepreneur Balram Halwai, made you chuckle, usually deliberately. And you will remember that he killed his boss.
As to why Balram kills Mr. Ashok, that you will forget enough to oversimplify, citing poverty or mistreatment. You might note that the start-up capital for Balram's taxi service is a bag of money stolen from his erstwhile boss, but you will forget the driver's veneration for the master. The theory of the Rooster Coop will slip your mind.
What's more, should you, a month after reading The White Tiger, try to explain how this novel amused you despite the fact that, in it, vitiligo stains the skin of the poor and roaches eat paint and the hallowed Ganges is sludge and piss and charred corpses (not that you will recall these details precisely), you will be at a loss. In fact, you will remember just enough about the destitute who mill, like extras, where sewage laps a village's edge and just enough about those who lord their corruption over the weak and just enough about the murderer-storyteller who, though only a centimeter gentler than ruthless, charmed you that, in retrospect, you will find it nearly impossible to explain how you read this book with what might pass for breezy pleasure.
That said, I am not sure whether The White Tiger's playing into a reader's forgetfulness proves Adiga's flaw or his genius. Undoubtedly, though, the easy pleasure that Adiga contrives for his readers is the catalyst for their forgetting much of what takes place. For instance, by structuring the novel as a series of letters addressed to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (a person no less real than those of us who make up the book's second, unnamed audience), Adiga absolves the reader of any real involvement in Balram's tale. ...