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The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger book cover

“Only a man who is prepared to see his family destroyed – hunted, beaten and burned alive by the masters- can break out of the coop. That would take no normal human being, but a freak, a pervert of nature. It would, in fact, take a White Tiger.”

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga tells the story of the extreme measures Balram Halwai must undertake to escape the poverty trap he calls the rooster coop and become an entrepreneur.  His story is told through a series of letters written to the Premier of China in an effort to tell him the truth about India.  Balram’s India is a corrupt one where schoolteachers steal children’s lunch money and bribes are commonplace.  “In the old days there were one thousand castes and destinies in India. These days, there are just two castes: Men with Big Bellies, and Men with Small Bellies. And only two destinies: eat – or get eaten up”

Free Press; 1 edition (April 22, 2008)

Book Club Ideas


White tiger fabric can be used as a tablecloth with a white tiger figurine as decoration.

White Tiger, Aravind Adiga


Balram’s hometown is Bangalore, India. Here is sampling of Rang Puhar Carnatic Group: Music of Southern India.

Book Club Menu

Balram travels from Bangalore up north to Delhi to become a driver. One of the meals Balram made for his master was Daal and Chapattis and a dish of okra (page 161).  Include this Indian okra recipe from

Indian, Pakistani soup

Balram’s last name, Halwai, means “sweet-maker” which is his caste – his destiny. “Everyone in the Darkness who hears that name knows all about me all at once. That’s why Kishan (his brother) and I kept getting jobs at sweetshops wherever we went. The owner thought, Ah, they’re Halwais, making sweet and tea is in their blood.” Some of the sweets mentioned in the book are Gulab Jamuns and laddoos. I made an easy Coconut Laddoo recipe that only has three ingredients – coconut, milk and sugar.

Indian desserts, Laddus

Book Club Resources

Winner, 2008 Man Booker Prize

Ratings at the time this post was published

Goodreads: 3.7 stars (110,652 ratings)
Amazon: 4 stars (659 ratings)
LibraryThing: 3.78 stars (2,383 ratings)
My Rating: 4 stars. I enjoyed this novel and its interesting, but disturbing, portrayal of India. It is an easy read and flows smoothly. The White Tiger reads like a dark comedy (although at times the comedy is of the locker room variety).

Discussion Questions

Spoiler Alert: Discussion guide may contain spoilers to the book.

1. The author chose to tell the story from the provocative point of view of an exceedingly charming, egotistical admitted murderer. Do Balram’s ambition and charisma make his vision clearer? More vivid? Did he win you over?
2. Why does Balram choose to address the Premier? What motivates him to tell his story? What similarities does he see between himself and the Premier?
3. Because of his lack of education, Ashok calls Balram “half-baked.” What does he mean by this? How does Balram go about educating himself? What does he learn?
4. Balram variously describes himself as “a man of action and change,” “a thinking man,” “an entrepreneur,” “a man who sees tomorrow,” and a “murderer.” Is any one of these labels the most fitting, or is he too complex for only one? How would you describe him?
5. Balram blames the culture of servitude in India for the stark contrasts between the Light and the Darkness and the antiquated mind set that slows change. Discuss his rooster coop analogy and the role of religion, the political system, and family life in perpetuating this culture. What do you make of the couplet Balram repeats to himself: “I was looking for the key for years / but the door was always open”? Read more . . .

6. Discuss Balram’s opinion of his master and how it and their relationship evolve. Balram says “where my genuine concern for him ended and where my self-interest began, I could not tell” (160). Where do you think his self-interest begins?
7. Compare Ashok and his family’s actions after Pinky Madam hits a child to Balram’s response when his driver does. Were you surprised at the actions of either? How does Ashok and his family’s morality compare to Balram’s in respect to the accidents, and to other circumstances?
8. Discuss Balram’s reasons for the murder: fulfilling his father’s wish that his son “live like a man,” taking back what Ashok had stolen from him, and breaking out of the rooster coop, among them. Which ring true to you and which do not? Did you feel Balram was justified in killing Ashok? Discuss the paradox inherent in the fact that in order to live fully as a man, Balram took a man’s life.
9. Balram’s thoughts of his family initially hold him back from killing Ashok. What changes his mind? Why do you think he goes back to retrieve Dharam at the end of the novel? Does his decision absolve him in any way?
10. The novel offers a window into the rapidly changing economic situation in India. What do we learn about entrepreneurship and Balram’s definition of it?
11. The novel reveals an India that is as unforgiving as it is promising. Do you think of the novel, ultimately, as a cautionary tale or a hopeful one?
(Discussion Questions from Simon and Schuster)

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The Author

author the white tiger

Photo by Mark Pringle

Aravind Adiga was born in India in 1974 and attended Columbia and Oxford universities. A former correspondent for Time magazine, he has also been published in the Financial Times. He lives in Mumbai, India.The White Tiger is a New York Times Bestseller and the winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize.

Recommended Reading

Other books about India:

Do you have any other ideas or recipes for a book club party for The White Tiger? We would love to have you share them with us! You can leave a comment below and upload pictures as well.

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