During the first third of The White Tiger, I was buzzing with excitement. But by the time I finished the novel, my enthusiasm gave way to a strange mixture of enjoyment and annoyance. Annoyance because Adiga’s sarcasm and excessive use of exclamation points grates. Ha! Yes, just like that. Unfortunately for Adiga, there are at least 23 registers of humor. Not just one. Which is the only one he settles into, ploppingly. Finally, Adiga’s representation of India smacks of phoniness. He depicts India as a filthy, throbbing coop of paan-spitting rickshaw pullers and harsh, degenerate landlords. The former want to murder their masters; the latter, enslave their victims. A simple typology. Which all feels a bit outlandish, almost cartoonish, really. But what do I know? I’ve never been to India. Still, that won’t prevent me from tapping my vast reservoir of non-experience and heartily recommending three alternative books: Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, and Siddhartha Chowdury’s Patna Roughcut (Chowdury, by the way, is described by Amitava Kumar as the Joyce of Delhi — a fine compliment, that). All three of these novels feel a hell of a lot more honest about the inner lives of the people they depict than does The White Tiger.
Tiger, Tiger Burning White