Roars of anger

From The Guardian:

Aravind Adiga’s debut novel, The White Tiger, won the Booker prize this week. But its unflattering portrait of India as a society racked by corruption and servitude has caused a storm in his homeland. He tells Stuart Jeffries why he wants to expose the country’s dark side.

Adig460 How do you get the nerve, I ask Aravind Adiga, to write a novel about the experiences of the Indian poor? After all, you’re an enviably bright young thing, a middle-class, Madras-born, Oxford-educated ex-Time magazine correspondent? How would you understand what your central character, the downtrodden, uneducated son of a rickshaw puller turned amoral entrepreneur and killer, is going through?

It’s the morning after Adiga, 33, won the £50,000 Man Booker award with his debut novel The White Tiger, which reportedly blew the socks off Michael Portillo, the chair of judges, and, more importantly, is already causing offence in Adiga’s homeland for its defiantly unglamorous portrait of India’s economic miracle. For a western reader, too, Adiga’s novel is bracing: there is an unremitting realism usually airbrushed from Indian films and novels. It makes Salman Rushdie’s Booker-winning chronicle of post-Raj India, Midnight’s Children (a book that Adiga recognises as a powerful influence on his work), seem positively twee. The Indian tourist board must be livid.

Adiga, sipping tea in a central London boardroom, is upset by my question. Or as affronted as a man who has been exhausted by the demands of the unexpected win and the subsequent media hoopla can be. Guarded about his private life, he looks at me with tired eyes and says: “I don’t think a novelist should just write about his own experiences. Yes, I am the son of a doctor, yes, I had a rigorous formal education, but for me the challenge of a novelist is to write about people who aren’t anything like me.” On a shortlist that included several books written by people very much like their central characters (Sheffield-born Philip Hensher, for example, writing about South Yorkshire suburbanites during the miners’ strike, or Linda Grant writing about a London writer exploring her Jewish heritage), the desire not to navel-gaze is surprising, even refreshing.

But isn’t there a problem: Adiga might come across as a literary tourist ventriloquising others’ suffering and stealing their miserable stories to fulfil his literary ambitions?

More here.