Aravind Adiga

Aravind Adiga on the ‘sound’ of “White Noise” and the thoughts of its main character, Balram Halwai:

“There’s a kind of continuous murmur or growl beneath middle-class life in India, and this noise never gets recorded. Balram is what you’d hear if one day the drains and faucets in your house started talking.”

No coincidence, really, that Adiga names three prominent black American writers–Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin and Richard Wright–as inspirations for the book. “White Tiger,” he says, is “deeply indebted” to these three.

And much like what those writers can produce, “White Tiger” pummels you like a sledgehammer.

Rich versus poor, privileged versus under-privileged (and worse). We’ve read this all before. Haven’t we? “The dreams of the rich and the dreams of the poor–they never overlap, do they?” asks Balram Halwai.

The plot, such as it is, is tension-free. But “White Tiger” works.

“White Tiger” is rich and colorful. You are dipped deep in the details of India-the ooze, the muck, the politics and cultural tics of India.

The details of “White Tiger” are wonderful. The half-ripe guavas, water buffalo lore, Indian income taxes, face masks, air pollution, roaches, skin diseases, social hierarchy, imported wine, liquor castes, traffic, “Murder Weekly,” footwear, burning cellophane, curries, urban growth, traffic, “the great Indian rooster coop,” blonde prostitutes, the perfect driver, dye jobs, red puddles of spit, fortune machines, poems and poetry, stray dogs, zoos, Johnny Walker Black, geckos.

The book works because of the low-grade seething that informs Halwai’s point of view. Halwai has analyzed his position in the world system, or at least in India, and has developed a razor-sharp justification for his actions. “My way of living is all wrong but I don’t have the courage to change it,” he proclaims somewhat matter-of-factly.

“White Tiger” is about being caged, about being stuck in the station of life to which you were born. It’s about “what it means not to be a servant” and all the opportunity that making such a change could bring. This is an amazing book-a delicious moral tale in a rich and powerful setting (in more ways than one).  The drains and faucets do talk-Adiga happened to be listening with a keen ear and just wrote it all down.

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