Friday, April 18, 2008

"The White Tiger"

Aravind Adiga was born in India and raised partly in Australia. He attended Columbia and Oxford universities. A former correspondent for Time magazine, he has also been published in the Financial Times.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel, The White Tiger, and reported the following:
" India--or at least, in the Darkness--the rich don't have drivers, cooks, barbers and tailors. They simply have servants."

There are two issues at stake in The White Tiger. The first is the relationship between masters and servants, which is the very heart of India's social structure. It is an extraordinary machine, this social structure: every morning millions of men and women get up at dawn, pack themselves into crowded and dirty buses, and travel for hours to get to the houses of their employers, where they cook, clean, mop and do much more--for a pittance, often for no more than $60 a month. Their masters, who have benefitted from India's outsourcing boom and growing economy, now live lavish lives, enjoying luxuries that the servants can't dream of. Why is it, that despite this phenomenal contrast, India is still such a safe country, with so little crime? What, in other words, prevents the servants from stealing from, and killing, their masters? Every page of this book reflects on the complex tangle of social, erotic, religious, and political bonds that tie master and servant together in India--and the violence that can be unleashed when this bond unravels.

The other issue is how we capture the voice of the servants--the people at the bottom of India's social order, who so rarely get to speak, in their authentic voices, in literature. The book attempts to capture the voice of one of the servants--without any false sentimentality or condescension. Do servants feel pity for one another's fate? Sure they do, sometimes--but equally true is that they are often insanely jealous of one another. Here is the narrator, a driver, observing another driver, a competitor within his master's household:

"There was one thing I was not allowed to do, and that was to touch the Honda City: Ram Persad alone had the right to drive it and clean it. In the evenings I'd watch him wash the sleek exterior of the car with a soft cloth. And I'd burn with envy."
Read an excerpt from The White Tiger, and learn more about the novel at the publisher's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue