Tag-Archive for ◊ Australia ◊

• Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Aravind Adiga was born in 1974 in Madras, now Chennai, India. He grew up in Mangalore where he went to Canara High School. In1990 he graduated from St. Aloysius High School in Andhra Pradesh. He emigrated in the 90s with his family to Sydney Australia and continued his studies in St. James Ruse Agricultural High School in Sydney, followed by English literature at Columbia College, Columbia University in New York City, graduating in 1997. He also studied at Magdalen College, Oxford. Starting his career he worked as a journalist for the Financial Times and Time Magazine.

Aravind Adiga lives in Mumbai, India and has written three novels to date:
Last Man In Tower, published in 2011.
Between The Assassinations (short stories/essays) published in 2009.
The White Tiger, his début novel, published in 2008, has sold many copies in several countries – won the 2008 Man Booker Prize for fiction and will be made into a film.

The story of The White Tiger is narrated during the course of seven nights as a series of letters addressed to the Chinese Prime minister, Wen Jiabao, who was visiting India at the time. The narrator is the novel’s main protagonist, the astute, determined, hard working, Balram Halwai. The Chinese premier wants “to meet some Indian entrepreneurs and hear the story of their success from their own lips.”

Balram writes the letter to Wen Jiabao from his 150-square-foot office, which is the only one in Bangalore“with its own chandelier”. The letter is about Indian entrepreneurship and explains that, despite the servitude, destitution and corruption prevailing socially and politically in present-day India, there is still some integrity to be found and some hope for mankind.

Balram Halwai writes about how, according to his school teacher, despite being gifted with an intelligence as rare as the white tiger, he couldn’t pursue his studies. He is born into an impoverished family and has to do menial work in the village tea shop. Nevertheless, he aspires to a better future than his father, the rickshaw puller, who died of tuberculosis in extreme poverty.

The highly ambitious Balram tries to improve his status by becoming a driver/servant to a rich landlord from his village as a first step to climbing the ladder to a better life. He wants to prove that he is indeed a rare feline species, an atypical Indian who refuses to perpetuate or be part of the “Rooster Coop” establishment, as he calls it metaphorically. His aim is to break the Indian ingrained class boundaries taken for granted by society from top to bottom and find a way out of this ambit to freedom.

Throughout the narrative the story changes rapidly, especially after Balram travels with his employer to New Delhi. The big capital becomes more of an eye-opener for the countryman that he is and makes him firmer in his beliefs, while kindling his desire for a brighter life. He becomes a “Thinking Man”, a sort of a philosopher, a thief and a murderer, before ending up as an amoral, successful entrepreneur in Bangalore.

He fulfils his ambition by becoming the proud owner of a taxi service through his auspicious Machiavellian plan of killing his master and stealing his money to finance his long coveted project – the White Tiger by now knows the law of the jungle. Balram watches his employers and proves to be a fast learner and a good observer, he becomes aware that in a corrupt society bribes are the only means to a successful business.

There are two phases in the novel, two different worlds: the rural dreary “Darkness”, the name given to a grim and rustic small village where Balram spent his young years in poverty before moving with Ashok, the young son of his employer, to the stimulating “Light” of the vibrant capital, New Delhi. In New Delhi he finds to his amazement the same constrained opportunities in the conventional, “Rooster Coop”. The wide breach he left behind, impersonated in the masters and chauffeurs/servants, is whirling around him. Even in this big city there is no escaping from class hierarchies and injustice.

The author is describing the current India and the considerable differences between the poor, backward rural areas and the advanced big cities. Through his writing the reader can detect his indignation, exasperation and concern about this important problem which might lead to an explosion one day if it is not addressed soon.

Aravind Adiga, tackles an array of subjects about Indian society. There is the caste system, the multiple religions and sects, the family ties and duties, democracy, corruption and advanced technology.

Balram Halwai, the main character, is interesting, witty and captivating, despite cool-bloodedly murdering his employer who treated him well. Nevertheless, in spite of his grim future in an unjust society maintained by the conservative mentality of people, is his act justified or even excusable? Couldn’t he find another way to attain his bid for autonomy without resorting to drastic measures? Knowing that reprisals will be swift on his family who will be killed because of his deed, as is customary in his village, are we to look upon him as a utopian, a rebel, a visionary or a common ruthless rogue, a social Machiavellian climber?

Through his main, cynical protagonist, the author is addressing the imperative future adjustments that have to be made in India, between the haves and the have nots. The well-being of citizens needs to be part of the economic prosperity of a country, as Balram says very succinctly to Wen Jiabao: “Never before in human history have so few owed so much to so many”.

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• Sunday, June 17th, 2012

Lloyd Jones was born in Lower Hutt in the Wellington region of New Zealand in 1955. He studied at Hutt Valley High School and Victoria University in Wellington. In 2009 he received an honorary doctorate from Victoria University and has worked as a journalist and a consultant as well as a writer.

In 1989 he received the Meridian Energy Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship, one of New Zealand’s long-standing and prestigious literary awards.

Lloyd Jones has written several novels, short stories, children’s books and non fiction. Mister Pip, which is part of post-colonial literature, was published in 2006. It is Lloyd Jones’ best-selling novel and the one that made him internationally known. It won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Overall Winner, Best Book and was short-listed in 2007 for the Man Booker Prize for fiction. It also won the Kiriyama Prize and the Montana Medal for fiction the same year. It has been adapted into a feature film which will be released later in 2012. Lloyd Jones now lives in Wellington, New Zealand.

The story of Mister Pip has an historical background as it relates the 1990’s Bougainville blockade by Papua New Guinea, Bougainville being rich in copper. This was an event which led to a civil war covered by Lloyd Jones who was then a journalist.

The novel starts in the early 1990’s. The narrator is the thirteen-year-old black girl, Matilda Laimo, the main character in the novel, who lives with her devout mother Dolores in a shack in Bougainville, a small tropical island in the South Pacific and a province of Papua New Guinea. The island is torn by civil war between the befuddled rebel forces called the Rambos and the atrociously inhuman government soldiers, called the Redskins. Matilda’s father, who was out of a job due to the closing down of the copper mines, left the island a few years before the blockade like several natives. He was hired to work for a mining company in Townsville, Australia and his wife Dolores and daughter Matilda were hoping to join him later but were held back by the imposed blockade.

Matilda is a child lacking paternal presence and support in her teenage life. She has a difficult relationship with her mother whom she loves and feels loyal to despite being ashamed of her reasoning, behaviour and difficulty understanding simple things.

In order to escape the atrocious reality and the horror of war surrounding them, Matilda and the other children allow themselves to be transported by the novel, Great Expectations, into an imaginary Dickensian world of 19th century Victorian England. Thanks to Mr Watts’ astuteness in transmitting his great admiration for Charles Dickens to his pupils, he takes pleasure in reading them a chapter from this well known novel every day.

Matilda says: “He kept reading and we kept listening” and when “the flow of words had ended, slowly we stirred back into our bodies and our lives”. Mr Watts sums it all up in these few words: “A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames. For me, Matilda, Great Expectations is such a book”.

The children were mostly fascinated by the main character, the orphan teenager, Pip, whom they could relate to. Matilda was especially under Pip’s spell. She was writing his name in the sand and with shells on the beach. Little did she know at the time that her deed would provoke the savage butchering of Mr Watts, followed by her mother’s by the Redskins who thought that Pip was one of the rebels concealed by the natives. A gruesome tragedy to intensify the abhorrent deeds carried out during these civil wars. As Lloyd Jones says about the Bougainville blockade: “the most unspeakable things happened without once raising the ire of the outside world”. Starting from 1989 and for ten years, the island was completely cut off from the world.

The skinny, solitary, Mr Watts or Pop-Eye, as everybody calls him in the village because of his protruding eyes, “eyes that wanted to leave his face”, is the baffling, self proclaimed teacher. After all the teachers leave the island, he is the only white person who remains despite the civil war, because of his native black wife, Grace, whom he met in New Zealand while she was studying dentistry and followed her home. They both live in the old mission house. Mr Watts is from New Zealand and is a bizarre, elusive, mysterious person. Matilda says: “Mr Dickens was easier to understand than Mr Watts” who “was whatever he needed to be”, a teacher, a magician, a clown with a red nose and ends-up being a saviour for the community when the Redskins needed a scapegoat to slaughter and set as an example.

Later in the novel, Matilda reads Great Expectations and discovers that Mr Watts had read his own version of the novel, rather than reading the original text to the children. “His Pacific version of Great Expectations” as she calls it, or “Pip in the Pacific” as he had named it a few years earlier, proving his gift as a story teller. He shows this talent when he gathers the whole community to recount his own story and keep them all mesmerized by his recounting: “On hearing Mr Watts’ voice the creatures shut up as well. Even the trees listened. And the old women too and with the respect they once reserved for prayer… And the Rambos were as enthralled as the rest of us”.

The author treats several powerful themes in his novel and enhances his story with his description of the natives’ naive characters, their desperation mixed with a feeling of helplessness, their uncomplicated basic existence, living of picked fruit and fishing, their gullibility, their pidgin Bible, their superstitions and their simplistic life and beliefs and their power of endurance. Nature is portrayed in a bright, colourful, enchanting way which contrasts with the sombre subject of loss and atrocious bloodshed. The once peaceful, beautiful, tropical island becomes a nightmare place.

A fascinating, original, thought provoking, poignant and captivating novel inside another novel, demonstrating the power of imagination and the effect of literature on people’s lives and how it can be an essential tool providing escapism and survival, whereby fiction and reality intertwine.