Second Indian Booker winner in three years

The award for the best English novel by a writer from any country except America goes to… an Indian for the second time in three years!

Aravind Adiga has won the 2008 Man Booker Prize worth 50,000 pounds ($87,000) for Commonwealth writers for his novel, The White Tiger, set in India. Indian Kiran Desai won the award for The Inheritance of Loss, spanning India and America, in 2006. Irish Anne Enright was the winner last year for The Gathering.

Adiga, 33, who read English literature at Columbia and Oxford and writes for Time magazine, lives in Mumbai.The White Tiger, about corruption, poverty and exploitation in India, is his first novel. Links to his Time articles appear at the end of this post.

“Adiga is the fifth Indian author to win the prize, joining VS Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy and Kiran Desai, who won the prize in 1971, 1981, 1997 and 2006 respectively,” notes the Man Booker website. Roy also won with her first novel, The God of Small Things.

The only other debut novelist to win the prize was the Australian DBC Pierre in 2003 for Vernon God Little. 

Adiga is the second-youngest novelist to win the award and cites the black American writers Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin as influences, says The Times.

About The White Tiger

Adiga also admires the Indian writer RK Narayan, he said in a Rediff interview, where he said he started writing the book based on his experiences as a Time magazine correspondent in India. He was struck by the vast gulf between the rich and the poor — and the fact that, despite the huge poverty, there was “so little crime in India compared to that in New York, South Africa and Latin America”.

 The White Tiger is a clever, dark, unusual novel where:

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The White Tiger: Clever but…

I am surprised that Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger is on the shortlist for the Booker Prize but not Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence. Would anyone want to read The White Tiger a second time?

No doubt it’s a clever book but I was repelled by the details.

What makes it unusual is that it’s written as a series of letters to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, of all people, by an Indian explaining how he made good, rising from a servant cum chauffeur to a successful entrepreneur in Bangalore. It’s a satire, I guess, about the corruption, exploitation and poverty that exist in India. But there’s nothing funny about this book beyond the smart-alecky style in which the letter writer addresses the Chinese leader.   

The letter writer, Balram Halwai, has every reason to be cynical from all that he has seen in life. His own success is built on a crime – the murder of his employer and the money he stole from him. Instead of being caught and punished for his crime, he ends up with the police on his payroll, bribing them to help him in his business.

The author’s success lies in his ability to make us look at life from Balram’s perspective.

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