How many people have to die to set one man free? Adiga pulls no punches in this story, written as a letter to the Chinese Premier Hu Jiaobau by a peasant-turner-driver-turned-entrepreneur. Our hero, haunted by his parents' deaths and the grinding poverty and loveless, crushing gestures of family life in a revoltingly corrupt rural India which swallows his brother, bears witness to the ubiquitous injustices afflicting the country. He is no saint; his self-serving and callous behaviour throughout culminates in cold-blooded violence. But neither is he a monster, as the retrieval of his cousin crucially underlines. He is a human being; corrupt in a corrupt culture. His prognosis for the white man rings fearfully true.
I wanted to unpick the allegorical elements of Adiga's tale; to what extent is Balram/Munna a symbol of India itself? What does the lizard symbolise? I think this is a complex, brilliantly balanced work, drawing considerable additional resonance from its ingenious mirroring of Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities and complementarity to Rushdie's Midnight's Children. I feel inclined to write essays about it!
"Oh you're useless. Where is that other driver? Ram Persad dashed up to the net at once. He had been watching the game all the time from the side. He knew exactly how to play badminton. I watched him hit the shuttle cleanly over the net and match her shot for shot, and my belly burned. Is there any hatred on earth like the hatred of the number two servant for the number one?"
"It's true what that poet said; once you recognise what is beautiful in this world, you stop being a slave"