Thursday, February 25, 2010

Speak to me of the white tiger, I said.

I found The White Tiger to be a fascinating description of lower-class life in modern day India.   The first-person perspective of the main character provides an often hilarious and always very real exposition on trying to make ends meet (and trying to be successful) in a place where the only success stories come out of manipulation, corruption, and power.  At book club, we discussed the question--Is it possible to succeed in an immoral society without being immoral one's self?  It seems that the author is asking that question, and yet he leaves it to the reader to contemplate what that looks like in different parts of the world, and perhaps for different people.

One of the little hidden parts of the novel that I was personally intrigued by was the narrator's (Balram) repeated references to four poets, who he notes, are all Muslim, and the fourth one whom can never remember:
"I haven't read many books, but I've read all the ones that count. I know by heart the works of the four greatest poets of all time--Rumi, Iqbal, Mirza Ghalib, and a fourth fellow whose name I forget."

After several more references to these four poets, the last whom he still can't remember, Balram has an internal conversation with Delhi, in a very poetic form:
Speak to me of civil war, I told Delhi.
I will, she said.
Speak to me of blood on the streets, I told Delhi.
I will, she said.

And it goes on like this for a bit.  The language used here is nearly a direct copy of the poet Kahlil Gibran, whose most famous work is The Prophet.  Gibran is one of the only poets I actually know enough to recognize a style, and so I was surprised to see this prose and it led me to wonder--is Gibran the fourth greatest poet that Balram repeatedly refers to?  Interesting. I wish I could ask Aravind Adiga.

So in summary, I loved this book.  I would highly recommend it, especially to those who have interest in international urban issues and/or India--it's a great novel that I think has some enlightening commentary on modern day developing nations and cities.

And the priestess spoke again and said:
      "Speak to us of Reason and Passion."
      And he answered saying:
      Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against passion and your appetite.
      Would that I could be the peacemaker in your soul, that I might turn the discord and the rivalry of your elements into oneness and melody.

-From "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran

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