The White Tiger
by Aravind Adiga
2008 Booker Prize winner
2008, 276 pp.
Hmmm, well, I happened to get this book from the library on the Saturday before the Booker Prize was announced “just in case.” When The White Tiger was revealed as the winner, I was really surprised. Not only did it have the longest odds to win, but I had recently read The Secret Scripture and not-so-secretly hoped it would win. In fact, the committee admitted these two were the main contenders and that the decision was not unanimous.
To be honest, I kind of groaned when I heard Adiga’s book was the winner. I don’t have a love affair at all with the Booker prize winners that I’ve read, so I was a little skeptical that I would enjoy this one. But, being the trooper that I am, I thought I’d give it at least 40 or so pages to see if it could capture my interest.
Surprise, surprise; it did. Not only is it a scathing indictment against India’s treatment of its poorest citizens, it also manages to be a clever black comedy. This is exactly what the prize committee chairman revealed as the reason behind its decision. So which book did I like better, The White Tiger or The Secret Scripture? It’s really comparing apples to oranges. They’re just not the same type of book at all. They both are worthy social commentaries on the authors’ home countries, but just written in a totally different style. While Sebastian Barry’s prose is lyrical, Adiga’s is biting (and comical). They both work spectacularly, just in different ways. I can definitely see why the committee had a difficult decision on its hands, and either one would have been a winner in my book.
How does it fare against the other Booker Prize winners? Well, I definitely enjoyed it more than some of the other winners I’ve read, including:
2007 – The Gathering by Anne Enright
2006 – The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
2005 – The Sea by John Banville
2000 – The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
1997 – The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
1985 – The Bone People by Keri Hulme
1983 – Life & Times of Michael K by J. M. Coetzee
And believe me, no one was more surprised than I was.