I read White Tiger by Aravind Adiga many years ago when it won the Man Booker Prize, and I do remember quite enjoying it. This, his second novel, was published in 2011 and has been sitting on my bookshelf for many years.
Here’s the blurb…
21st Century Mumbai is a city of new money and soaring real estate, and property kingpin Dharmen Shah has grand plans for its future. His offer to buy and tear down a weathered tower block, making way for luxury apartments, will make each of its residents rich – if all agree to sell. But not everyone wants to leave; many of the residents have lived there for a lifetime, many of them are no longer young. As tensions rise among the once civil neighbours, one by one those who oppose the offer give way to the majority, until only one man stands in Shah’s way: Masterji, a retired schoolteacher, once the most respected man in the building.
This is a lengthy novel, coming it at around 400 pages, and I can sometimes be put off by overly long novels. But this one didn’t seem drawn out at all, and in fact I really loved it. The book has a lot of characters which are hard to keep up with at times, and I found myself constantly having to refer back to the list of tower block tenants at the start of the novel. This confusion is added to by the fact that the third person narrator refers to the characters as Mr or Mrs Whoever, while the characters themselves often call each other by their first names. However I decided early on not to get too hung up on the lengthy cast list, and just relax into the story.
And the story itself is brilliant. Although the plot is very simple, a lot of elements are weaved in. It is a story of greed, pride, corruption, and much more, and what I think makes the story so clever is that you find yourself siding with the bad guys at times, and getting hugely frustrated with the ‘good’ guys! At times shocking, the novel still has a real humour to it, and the characters – despite there being so many – have their own distinctive personalities which you can come to love and/or hate. There are no major twists or turns in the book, and even though there is an inevitability about where the story will end up, it is still shocking and I think will stay with me for a long time.
I also liked the Mumbai setting, with the contrast between the rich and poor, the old and the new. I also found myself craving Indian food frequently through the course of the story – the descriptions of the Mumbai street food were particularly mouth-watering.
Overall I loved this book, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would! It is quite long, and the cast of characters can be confusing at times, but I think the story is so clever and well written, that this doesn’t matter. I really admired the way the book constantly made me rethink where I stood on certain issues, and I liked that the good characters were flawed and the bad characters were human. This definitely isn’t a light beach read, and it is one to read in large chunks so you can keep up with who is who, but I would definitely recommend it as a novel that can really make you think, and will give you a taste of the sights, sounds and smells of Mumbai.
My rating: 10 out of 10