Man Booker Prize 2008
October 16, 2008 9:39 AM   Subscribe

Aravind Adiga, a 33 year-old first-time author from India, won the Man Booker Prize yesterday with his novel The White Tiger. It's a story about the underclass of India which he found "similar to black Americans, with a sense of humour you would associate with the Jewish population in the ghettos". The prize selection was very heated and "brought all of the male judges to tears" over the winner and one other work (unnamed). Some critics find it a "left field" choice. The complete review. Excerpts.
posted by stbalbach (37 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've yet to read the book but I saw Adiga being interviewed by a BBC reporter. If The White Tiger is anything like The God of Small Things or Rushdie's works then we're all in for a treat. India has a lot to contribute to the world these days.
posted by ageispolis at 9:48 AM on October 16, 2008


2000s India = 1990s Seattle.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:09 AM on October 16, 2008


The Booker Shortlist Digested

Sounds like an uninspiring lot. I'd add a spoilers warning, but these are mostly "poper" novels that don't have much in the way of plots.
posted by Artw at 10:13 AM on October 16, 2008


"poper" = proper.
posted by Artw at 10:17 AM on October 16, 2008


Also it sounds like The White Tiger is not anything like The God of Small Things at all.
posted by Artw at 10:18 AM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


2000s India = 1990s Seattle.

Plaid flannel would be uncomfortable in Bombay heat, I'd imagine.
posted by jonmc at 10:19 AM on October 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Isn't it redundant to call Booker Prize winners and nominees "left field choices"?
posted by pineapple at 10:20 AM on October 16, 2008


My brain must be rotting because I just couldn;t parse this at all: Has bad philosophy killed the Booker prize?
posted by Artw at 10:23 AM on October 16, 2008


"brought all of the male judges to tears"

You can't just put that out there without any explanation of the "male" qualifier. (Talking to the article here, not the poster.)
posted by DU at 10:37 AM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Really looking forward to reading this. I think this is an important book at this time for cultural understanding, now that so many Westerners are looking to India for outsourcing.

Didn't know what to expect. Thanks for the excerpts.

It's an odd cover though. Is it a take off on '70's filmi posters?

The subcontinent has a number of authors who won the Booker Prize: Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai and now Aravind Adiga. Good for him. Way to go Aravind! It will probably be hard for him as an author to win such a prize at such a young age, 33.

The other finalists look like great reading too:
Sebastian Barry's “The Secret Scripture” is the story of an Irish patient in a mental hospital sharing her shocking family history with her psychiatrist. “Sea of Poppies” by Amitav Ghosh, “The Clothes on Their Backs” by Linda Grant, “The Northern Clemency” by Philip Hensher and “A Fraction of the Whole” by Steve Toltz.

Another well known book about the working class in India is Coolie by Mulk Raj Anand.
posted by nickyskye at 10:38 AM on October 16, 2008


I've been done with the Booker since I read Mister Pip, which everyone was gushing over last year. It seems that you can repackage "The White Man's Burden" and, as long as it's a little less hoary than Kipling, fool all the artsy types into loving it again.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:47 AM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


The subcontinent has a number of authors who won the Booker Prize: Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai and now Aravind Adiga.

It's a commonwealth prize, and for whatever reason theres a lot of Indian books written in English.
posted by Artw at 10:52 AM on October 16, 2008


and for whatever reason theres a lot of Indian books written in English

200 years of the British colonising India?

Reading more of the excerpts it's exciting to realize this story is told from the eyes of a typical Indian brainiac, who has that marvelous and typical Indian sense of humor, which sees the absurd in the cosmic and yet still remains both romantic and reverential about life. This young Eastern brainiac came West to university, then went back to India with typically Western outrage, experiences his country fresh and intensely, maybe in some ways the way a Westerner would. But he has this inside knowledge because that's his home. This is cool.
posted by nickyskye at 10:56 AM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Saw a lot of coverage that the prize has been dumbed down/made more populist with Portillo the chairman of judges and having comedian Hardeep Singh Kohli as another judge talking it up on the tv all the time.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:03 AM on October 16, 2008


Yea. everything sucks.
posted by Postroad at 11:13 AM on October 16, 2008


for whatever reason theres a lot of Indian books written in English.

You know English is one of India's major official languages, right?
posted by rodgerd at 11:17 AM on October 16, 2008


You know English is one of India's major official languages, right?

Well, yes, I’m not a moron.

IIRC It’s generally more of a second language though, though it may be a bit of a lingua franca (lots of languages there). Of course a lot of these authors are British-Indian.

(For all I know a shit-ton of novels get written in all the various languages, and we only really get to hear about the English language ones)
posted by Artw at 11:29 AM on October 16, 2008


And as for why the shortlist are not full of Australians and Canadians I’ve no idea.
posted by Artw at 11:31 AM on October 16, 2008


And as for why the shortlist are not full of Australians and Canadians I’ve no idea.

Nowhere near the population and nowhere near the literary tradition of India. One of my best friends is British Indian (by this I mean his father was born in India and educated in England) and both he and his father have each written books not as a profession but as an avocation. It's just something they do in their culture, as far as I can tell from my limited experience in the matter.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:39 AM on October 16, 2008


I want a book written about the upper class of India. Give me something NEW.
posted by Senator at 11:54 AM on October 16, 2008


I want a book written about the upper class of India. Give me something NEW.

Hey, there's Vedic literature for that.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:16 PM on October 16, 2008


I want a book written about the upper class of India. Give me something NEW.

C'mon. Rushdie writes almost exclusively about the moneyed classes. Doctors, lawyers, actors, etc.

I've read a couple of reviews of The White Tiger. I sounds edgy. Based on the descriptions I've seen, it makes me think of Native Son more than anything. Maybe a mirror image of American Psycho?
posted by mr_roboto at 1:10 PM on October 16, 2008


And as for why the shortlist are not full of Australians and Canadians I’ve no idea.

Steve Toltz is Australian, although there hasn't been an Australian winner since 2003. John Birmingham used his latest Fairfax column to grumble about the Booker (and I guess literary awards in general).
posted by markr at 1:41 PM on October 16, 2008


nickskye: haha. i hope there's a section where indian women (lush, loud, maternal) reveal the west's drain on india and instead proffer themselves to rescue our western-inflected hero. there will also, hopefully, be hilarious dissections of how the west uses toilet paper and how unclean that is.
posted by yonation at 1:45 PM on October 16, 2008


huh, yonation, you don't think toilet paper is unclean? God, I had a chapped pucker for a year after returning to the US after a decade on the subcontinent.

Best book, imo, about a lame Westerner visiting India and screwing up royally, Are You Experienced by William Sutcliffe.

a mirror image of American Psycho?

yikes. Really?
posted by nickyskye at 1:57 PM on October 16, 2008


thats not what i mean, nick, we all know the advantages of water if you've been to india. but indian authors (from rushdie to patel, to desai) have the same tired auntie character talking about the stupid westerners who just use toilet paper. just such an obvious, tired horse they all keep beating.

and sutcliffe's book brings back memories.. ah... though i never got sick and cant speak about that part of his suffering...
posted by yonation at 2:01 PM on October 16, 2008


I just ordered this book from Amazon. I'd meant to read it anyway, this just gave me my excuse. It looks like it's going to be a wonderful read. Thanks for the excerpts.
posted by peacheater at 2:09 PM on October 16, 2008


IIRC It’s generally more of a second language though,

It's a second language, but it's (a) the second language associated with educated people, and (b) it's the second language that crosses geographical/cultureal barriers. If you want to write something that other Indians will understand all over the country, you can write it in English and be certain that it will get wide circulation.

Fun factoid I read in a bio of Nehru many years ago was the claim he was keen on eliminating English upon independence, but the biggest problem was that historical animosity across the various regions of India meant that there was no other language that was more acceptable to everyone
posted by rodgerd at 2:29 PM on October 16, 2008


I really enjoyed The White Tiger-- it's one of the more interesting and original Indian novels I've read in a long time. Adiga doesn't use the rich, lyrical prose of Rushdie or Arundhati Roy. The writing is brisk and bitter. There are no "lush, loud, maternal" women, no reveling in the domestic sphere, no talk of spices, pickles, or mangoes. Definitely no idyllic depictions of the timeless rhythms of village life.

I don't think this novel could have come out of India fifteen years ago, and not just because part of it takes place in the Bangalore tech industry. In fact, I'm kind of surprised to see it come out of India now, just because it confronts the selfishness and blindness of the elite so directly and so angrily. It is relentlessly dark, in its depiction of money, power, business, and politics in India. Class issues are not something that India deals with well, if it deals with them at all, and they are the focal point of The White Tiger.

The novel is not perfect, I'll willingly admit. It can be simplistic in places. It's structured as a series of autobiographical letters, sent from the protagonist to the premier of China, which seems like a forced attempt to be timely. But on the whole, it's well worth reading. And it's a good read, despite the bleakness-- fast paced, engaging, and surprisingly funny.

(Another Indian novel that really addresses class well is Thrity Umirgar's The Space Between Us, which I also recommend, although it falls a bit flat in places. Umrigar's subject is the way inequality creates an unbridgeable gap between Indian women of very different means)
posted by bookish at 3:15 PM on October 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


Thanks for the review bookish. I am glad that a journalist for India's TIME saves talk of spices, pickles, and mangoes and sticks to what is apparent in his experience. This is what gives Indo-English authors such veracity, they have such a rich cultural background to draw from and the diversity among the country itself reflects the diversity among its writers.
posted by ageispolis at 3:30 PM on October 16, 2008


On the subject of Indian writing in English-- Vikram Chandra, author of Sacred Games among others, has a very interesting essay about Indian writing, language and regionalism, and authenticity. It's a very heated issue, and one over which he's received some flak.
You’ll have noticed that references to "regional writers" are an essential rhetorical device in these maneuvers [attacks on him over authenticity]. "Regional writers" presumably live in regions, which is to say in properly dusty parts of India, not in faraway air-conditioned regions of vilayat, abroad; "regional writers" write in regional languages, which is to say any language other than English; "regional writers" therefore presumably don’t write for a Western audience, or an international one; and "regional writers" presumably don’t make money, at least not in large hard currency amounts. "Regional writers" are therefore the opposite of Indo-Anglian writers in all ways, and are therefore virtuous and pure. Indo-Anglian writers are the opposite of "regional writers," and are therefore corrupt and impure. This moral positioning became especially noticeable and fervent in reaction to Salman Rushdie’s infamous assertion that "the prose writing ... by Indian writers working in English is proving to be a stronger and more important body of work than most of what has been produced ... in the so-called ‘vernacular languages.’"
posted by bookish at 3:36 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh YAY bookish, excellent review and so well said. Thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 3:39 PM on October 16, 2008


for whatever reason theres a lot of Indian books written in English

Indians speak and write well. Unlike the English.
posted by srboisvert at 3:59 PM on October 16, 2008


I read a handful of Rushdie and God of Small things, before I found out that most of those books I had been enjoying were Booker Prize winners, so I guess this time I will take the recommendation.

Thanks for the info, Bookish.
posted by paisley henosis at 7:12 PM on October 16, 2008


And as for why the shortlist are not full of Australians and Canadians I’ve no idea.

Adiga is Indian-Australian citizen (dual citizenship), and went to highschool in Australia. He now lives in Mumbai.
posted by Megami at 8:33 PM on October 16, 2008


Thank you bookish for the review, and especially for the fascinating Vikram Chandra essay you linked to. That piece is a quite masterful distillation of so many things, whichever side of the argument you find yourself on.
posted by stumbling at 11:07 AM on October 17, 2008


This thread is practically dead but if anyone sees this I urge them to read this discussion (among other things) of The White Tiger by Amitava Kumar in the Boston Review.
Here's a passage from the article that really rang true for me:
"However, it is his presentation of ordinary people that seems not only trite but also offensive. Here is his description of the migrant Bihari workers returning to their villages after their hard labor in the cities:

A month before the rains, the men came back from Dhanbad and Delhi and Calcutta, leaner, darker, angrier, but with money in their pockets. The women were waiting for them. They hid behind the door, and as soon as the men walked in, they pounced, like wildcats on a slab of flesh. They were fighting and wailing and shrieking. My uncles would resist, and managed to keep some of their money, but my father got peeled and skinned every time. ‘I survived the city, but I couldn’t survive the women in my home,’ he would say, sunk into a corner of the room. The women would feed him after they fed the buffalo.

I have witnessed such men, and sometimes women, coming back to their village homes countless times. The novelist seems to know next to nothing about either the love or the despair of the people he writes about. I want to know if others, who might never have visited Bihar, read the passage above and recognize how wrong it is, how the appearance of verisimilitude belies the emotional truths of life in Bihar. "
posted by peacheater at 7:02 PM on October 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


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