British Book Awards, Author of the Year, 2009.
Man Booker Prize, Fiction, 2008.
No saris. No scents. No spices. No music. No lyricism. No illusions.
This is India now.
Balram Halwai is a complicated man. Servant. Philosopher. Entrepreneur. Murderer. Over the course of seven nights, by the scattered light of a preposterous chandelier, Balram tells us the terrible and transfixing story of how he came to be a success in life - having nothing but his own wits to help him along. Born in a village in the dark heart of India, Balram gets a break when he is hired as a driver for a wealthy man, two Pomeranians (Puddles and Cuddles), and the rich man's (very unlucky) son.
Through Balram's eyes, we see India as we've never seen it before: the cockroaches and the call centers, the prostitutes and the worshippers, the water buffalo and, trapped in so many kinds of cages that escape is (almost) impossible, the white tiger.
With a charisma as undeniable as it is unexpected, Balram teaches us that religion doesn't create morality and money doesn't solve every problem - but decency can still be found in a corrupt world, and you can get what you want out of life if you eavesdrop on the right conversations.
©2008 Aravind Adiga; (P)2008 Tantor
"Balram's evolution from likable village boy to cold-blooded killer is fascinating and believable." (Library Journal)
"A brutal view of India's class struggles is cunningly presented in Adiga's debut....It's the perfect antidote to lyrical India." (Publishers Weekly)
Not sure how to describe this book. Took me a while to get into it. Loved his perspective on writing to China's leader. An honest and gripping portrait of a "hard" life in India. Beautiful character portrayals and scenic descriptions. John Lee is by far one of my favorite readers! Worth it just to hear him again.
The story was outstanding and I look very much forward to getting further acquainted with this author's work! Additionally, in terms of the audiobook, the narrator does a great job by taking on an Indian accent and doing a good job of expressing the dark humour that runs throughout this book. I would highly recommend this one! One of my favs!
I have mixed feelings about this book. I understand that this is a short book but that's where author's skills ought to be judged. The story is not fluid instead jumping from character to character and from event to event. It moves pretty fast at the cost of coherency. The choice of subject and profession of the protagonist is excellent. It brings out the hollowness of the rich in India very well and also takes a good stab at how drivers and the like look at the world.
I have recommended Shantaram whole heartedly to anyone wanting to understand India. This book doesn't live up to the mark to be put in that category. It could have been the Great Gatsby of Indian literature.. but alas it's not!
Regarding the narration:
The choice of narrator is poor. John Lee might be a good narrator but this was a wrong pick for him. He took up a job he did half-assed. Pronunciations of many Indian words are inaccurate to the point of not recognizing the words themselves.
overall 2 stars. I don't regret taking the time to listen to it but probably wouldn't recommend this to anyone over other good books. Check out Upamanyu Chatterjee (not available on audible).
I'm not from India so can't comment on the narrator although it does seem odd to not have a native speaker (not sure what audiobook directors/producers are thinking of sometimes)
That said, I found the book captivating. The type of story - the intersection of rich and poor - is not uniquely Indian -- it could be written about any country. But this is the Indian take on it, with comical/pathetic insights and images of the lifestyles of the growing middle/upper-middle class, and their relationships with the service class.
The narrator is just annoying (all the things everyone else said about his Apu accent) AND didn't like the 1st person voice (annoying). As for this second point, I can see how that would be a legit literary choice (to have an obnoxious 1st person voice), but I prefer 1st person books where the voice/character is someone I'd want to hang out with on my own accord. This is not one of those.
I like books where I learn about different countries and cultures and this satisfied that. Very descriptive. It was ultimately a decent read.
Not a book I would have chosen but was recommended by a friend. GLAD I listened. Well written and full of life in India that you sort of knew but the detail was great. A good listen!
I highly recommend this audiobook. I know it's not perfect, but I started it on my walks to work and found I reached the office too soon. Then I listened to it while hiking up the Grouse Grind and the time just flew by - now THAT says something! The story is engaging and fascinating - well written. It wasn't always easy to hear every story within the story, but they did portray the sad reality of life in India. The author's sense of humour comes as a surprise and had me laughing out loud on the streets of Vancouver. Note - I had trouble understanding the narrator at first but soon got used to him and his fast-speaking, lilting voice. I didn't want it to end and missed being in their lives when the story was over.
The hardest part of this book was to take the main character seriously. With such a fake accent the entire book felt like a caricature, and I just simply didn't have any attachment to any characters or consequences. Whether that was due to the narration or not is impossible to say, but I just didn't feel any weight behind the story line. Such good reviews make me hesitant to make a final judgement against the book, but the audio production certainly left me wanting.
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