book by Aravind Adiga
Annotation by Talya Jankovits
This novel, set in India, is told in the voice of a narrator who immediately comes alive as soon as page one. A murderer, a coward, an ignorant and morally challenged man from a poor and downtrodden village, Balram takes the reader on a voyage not just through India’s booming industrial cities and highly abused suburbs, but through his twisted logic and climb up the social ladder. Above the suspense, the rich culture and devastating class system, the narration is what makes this novel so captivating.
Balram is candid through out, his voice honest and disturbing. At times you laugh with him and at other times cringe. It’s a look into the life of a murderer in a most unexpected way, an exposure to psychological rationalization of the lowest kind, not only of Balram but other characters as well. There is an immediate attachment to this narrator, a hate love relationship if you will. This torn reaction to the narrator is I think what makes this first person narration so successful.
I am always looking for a complexity of reactions to a character. I never want to be totally infatuated or completely revolted. I crave dimensional characters and Balram is just that. Adiga morphed together both the hero and villain into one multi-layered narrator. By allowing the reader access to Balram’s thinking process, the reader sees his insecurities, the abuses he withstands and how he mentally complies with them and we also see his moral demise. The way his hate builds and his rational for his murderous action begins to develop. I really appreciated this. The opportunity to empathize with a murderer and have moments where I enjoy his company, and try, even for a moment, to see his side of the argument. This is something I can learn from, how to make a villain human, how to appeal to emotion in a way that makes a person think seriously about the plight of a murderer. This mastering of character is most important when in the case like Balram, the character is also the narrator.
In addition to the story line and the excellent use of first person narration, the novel also relates many social issues. A brutal class system and a corrupted government, you see through the eyes of a low class driver all that is wrong with a system that perpetuates greed, bribery and capitalism. This novel can serve both as a critique as well as an entertaining glimpse into the mind and actions of a murderer who decides if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. But Adiga never makes you feel like he has a hidden agenda, his dealings with India’s corruption in the governmental and industrial infrastructure is always handled with the grace of storytelling, never once sounding preachy or socially driven.
It is always enjoyable to be entertained but it takes reading to another level when a writer presents you with a subtle underlay of social awareness. This novel takes you through a long weaving of events where Adiga takes horrifying social injustices and uses them in such a way where it elevates his plot and enriches his characters as well as teaches the reader. This was another aspect of his novel where I paid close attention, wanting a historical fiction piece I am working on to accomplish some of what he has done – a gentle but constant coverage of what it is like to be dehumanized by a brutal, governing system.
Adiga’s novel was really an enjoyable read –very deserving of its Man Booker Prize and functioned for me on many levels of writerly enrichment. From the captivating voice of Balram to the development and triumph of a murderer down to the social injustices, it was truly a valuable reading experience.