I read a book! I don’t get much time to read nowadays but recently I finished The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

Narrated in first person, the book tells the story of Balram Halwai. Balram is the son of an impoverished rickshaw driver in backward rural India, which he calls “the Darkness”. He starts out as a manual labourer, then learns to drive a car and gets employed as a driver for one of the landlords. When a son in the rich family moves to Delhi, the driver goes with him.

Balram’s village is owned and controlled by landlords whose power is like that of feudal lords of old, including power over life and death. In Delhi the gulf between the master and the servant remains yawningly deep: the car that he can drive but isn’t allowed to touch otherwise; the malls he as a servant is not even allowed to enter; the furniture he is not allowed to sit on. The masters talk about him as if he wasn’t there, read his letters, and openly comment on his quaint habits.

As long as his boss treats him well and honorably, Balrams accepts this as the natural order of things. Servility is a habit so deeply ingrained that he serves instinctively. But when the boss almost frames Balram for a crime that the boss committed (and only drops the plan when the crime gets hushed up by other means), he suddenly seems to awaken to this reality, to realize that he is not his own man and never will be, even though he earns good money. He is chattel.

As he loses his respect for the master, he decides to break free and to become a master. In an opportune moment he kills his master, steals a lot of money, and sets up a new life for himself.

The book is angry and bleak, hopeless through and through. There is neither love nor empathy in this world – homo homini lupus est. There is no idealism and no desire to change the world or to break the master/slave pattern, just the desire to be on top rather than at the bottom.

It is a witty, fast-paced, sharp book. But it is also shallow in both idea and execution. There is nothing particularly original or thought-provoking here. The characters are superficial, even cartoonish at times. Balram himself seems disconnected from everything around him, and rarely seems to have any normal emotional reactions except when threatened with years in prison. His comments are inconsistent, sometimes so jaded and cynically critical, sometimes so naïve.

Good enough but forgettable, nothing special or prize-worthy.

Amazon US, Amazon UK, Adlibris.