Don't think my tardiness is any indication that I didn't love, love, love this book. It's not necessarily a fun read--the subject matter is a little unsettling and not easy to identify with--but it is darn interesting, and the writer's talent shines brightly.
In his protagonist, Balram Halwai, Adiga has created the most charming, intriguing, dangerous character I have encountered in a while. While I didn't identify with him, I felt that I understood him and liked him in spite of himself. He reminds me a little bit of the protagonist of Notes from Underground: "I am a sick man. ... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man." You don't trust him, and you don't like what he's saying, but you just can't stop listening.
The novel takes the form of a series of increasingly personal memos from Balram Halwai, an entrepreneur and self-made man in Bangladore, India, and the (fictional? I didn't check) premier of China, who is coming to India for a visit. Balram purports to use himself of an example of how India modernized, a model that China may want to follow. Really, it is an excuse for a long monologue by Balram about his life, his philosophy, and his view of the world.
Balram was born to a role much too small for his gifts. As the smartest boy in his village, where his father barely supports the family as a rickshaw puller, Balram recognizes the potential of his chance to become the chauffeur of a wealthy man, and seizes it. This moves him in an instant from the poverty of his village to the life of a servant in contemporary India, with its business deals, corruption, cellphones, high rise apartments, shopping malls, and even more obvious class distinctions. Balram is smart enough to notice the difference between his life and his boss's life, and to plot how to improve himself, not always through honest means.
Balram's story encourages us to think about our values in life, how much we are willing to compromise our virtues for our goals, and the downsides of material success. It might also make us think about whether adopting our Western economy is the best path for developing nations.
All this through association with a person you shouldn't trust too completely. If you sat next to Balram on a bus, you'd be hanging on every word. When you got off at your stop, you'd be checking to make sure he wasn't following you. And he would know you were checking. When you glanced back, you might even see him smirking at you.
Now, excuse me a minute while I turn the fan on--I'm still sweating, sir--and let me sit down on the floor, and watch the fan chop up the light of the chandelier. The rest of today's narrative will deal mainly with the sorrowful tale of how I was corrupted from a sweet, innocent village fool into a citified fellow full of debauchery, depravity and wickedness. All these changes happened in me because they happened first in Mr. Ashok. He returned from America an innocent man, but life in Delhi corrupted him--and once the master of the Honda City [car] becomes corrupted, how can the driver stay innocent?
The rest of today's narrative will deal mainly with the sorrowful tale of how I was corrupted from a sweet, innocent village fool into a citified fellow full of debauchery, depravity and wickedness.
All these changes happened in me because they happened first in Mr. Ashok. He returned from America an innocent man, but life in Delhi corrupted him--and once the master of the Honda City [car] becomes corrupted, how can the driver stay innocent?