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Review: I survived "The White Tiger"

 Dave and I thought it would be fun to review a book after we'd both read it. His choice? The 2008 Man Booker Prize-winner The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga, who just so happens to be a journalist, published at The Wall Street Journal and Time.

The story is narrated by an Indian "entrepreneur," Halwai. Halwai relates his story to the prime minister of China, writing to the man after hearing that he is visiting India. Halwai, a man from a lower caste, decides that the prime minister isn't going to learn the truth about India unless he hears it from Halwai himself.

The catch? That company Halwai owns and operates was purchased with money he stole after murdering his employer.

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So let's go beyond the obvious issue of a wanted man corresponding with the prime minister of China, in which he admits to his whole sordid crime. It'll make the rest of the book a lot easier to get through. But it does lead to my least favorite literary character: The unreliable narrator.

Sure it's fun, seeing exactly how many grains of salt a reader will swallow before the gig is up, and they reach for a refreshing new read. And following a madman into the darkness of his own soul can be plenty illuminating. But my problem with this guy is that he's not even charismatic. He's just a bore.

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If it weren't for the fact that I'd promised Dave to read it, I probably wouldn't have gotten past the first chapter. Halwai is self-important, self-involved, self-just-about-everything-you-can-think-of, and Adiga doesn't do a good enough job of explaining the setting without making me feel like a racist white girl. Is India really this backward, this segregated, this hopeless? Well, I don't know.

But I did finish the book, and to be fair, it got better. Halwai isn't completely unsympathetic, and the moral of the story -- that poverty leads to desperation -- is a good one. After driving a family of filthy rich men around the country, while seeing his rural countrymen dying in the mud, I can certainly understand the disdain and hatred Halwai lets loose in the first few pages. But how is anyone going to know that if they can't get past those first few pages?

Not everyone has a Dave to push them to the end. And now I eagerly await his verdict.

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