All in all the ads reflect an old Western preoccupation (detailed in the excellent book Imperial Encounters by Peter Van der Veer) with India as an idealized Orientalist paradise of true and original religion.
Aravind Adiga's debut novel, The White Tiger, angrily explodes that fairytale image with a gritty and darkly humorous look at the "other side" of idyllic India--a world of gated communities, caste discrimination, rampant inequality and worm-eaten civic institutions. In interviews, Adiga stated that one of the inspirations for his book was Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, as well as the work of James Baldwin and Richard Wright, and the influence is marked. The White Tiger is an arresting mashup of Crime and Punishment and Native Son, a gritty true crime story told from the perspective of a brilliant and determined murderer.
When we meet him, Balram Halwai is writing a letter to the Chinese Premier Wen Jibao from his office in Bangalore, and the novel unfolds as a series of letters to Jibao in which Halwai relates his improbable rise to prosperity in the Indian middle class.
Born a servant to a family of sweetsmakers ("halwa" means sweetness in Arabic, and I'm assuming it has the same meaning in Hindi), Halwai nevertheless grows up in poverty in the northern Indian village of Laxmangarh, with his father pulling rickshaws to make ends meet. As Halwai introduces his life, we are given vivid snapshots of the events that define him as a character--his early intelligence, his female relatives, the horrific act that defines the heart of the novel, even his fear of lizards. As a literary voice, Halwai's character is unmatched by almost any character I've read in modern literature. The unnamed narrator of Invisible Man of course comes to mind, as does the protagonist of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Telltale Heart."
I cannot do justice to the book in this review. Suffice to say that, in my humble and rather uninformed opinion, Adiga has really gone deep into the Indian postcolony--probing its faultlines, showing the complex relationship between caste and class, and even illuminating the ties between the rural and urban areas of India. I thought his description of the relationship between master and servant accurately captured its tension and its alternation between paternalism, cruelty, servility and small acts of resistance, that I have personally witnessed in my travels.
I have two questions for our readers. One, have you read the book? If so what did you think? Two, what kind of reception has this novel received in India?