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This is an epistolary novel, told by the main character Balram (who calls himself the White Tiger) to the prime minister of China, who is coming to India for a visit. Balram was born in an extremely poor part of India and was destined to live a life of labour or servitude, but as we find out at the beginning of the story he is a successful business. We also find out right at the beginning that he also murdered his killed his former master Ashok. The book tells Balram’s story and explains why he did what he did.

I am still not entirely sure how I feel about this book. I definitely enjoyed it, in that it was written well and I liked it’s very descriptive chronicle of life in India. (Note: this book does not romanticise India in ANY way, shape or form). It was often witty, and the writing flowed well. I found it an undemanding read that kept me interested – but for all that, I never felt fully engaged with the characters and always felt a slight detachment from Balram.

Nonetheless if this is a genre you like, I would recommend this book and if it is different kind of novel to what you would normally choose, you might like this change of scene.

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This non-fiction book was written after the author spent a number of months living with a family in Kabul.  The head of the family is Sultan Khan, a bookseller who has defied the authorities for years to sell books to the citizens of Kabul.  The book essentially describes normal life for the family, with each chapter concentrating on a different event or aspect of life.

The writing flows very easily and almost reads like a novel.  It’s constantly interesting, but always frustrating.  Sultan is liberal in many ways – he believes in encouraging knowledge and education, and is glad when women achieve governmental positions. He believes in banishing the uncomfortable burka, and is an intelligent and cultured man.  But for all that he believes would be good for society, he still treats his own family – particularly the females – as second class citizens.  He takes a second wife (a young teenage girl), although he already has a loyal and intelligent wife who is devastated at his choice to marry again, and his youngest sister Leila is treated as barely more than a slave, for little or no appreciation.

The oppression of women is a constant theme throughout the book.  For example, when a man decides that he wants to marry a particular woman, he has to approach her parents or the head of her family with his monetary offer for their daughter.  The potential bride has no say in whether she will marry the man or not.  Indeed, brides to be are not even supposed to look their husband in the eye prior to the wedding.

While I could not like Sultan, due to his treatment of his family, he was certainly an interesting character.  However, the character for whom I most cared was certainly Leila.  Reading about her life made me very thankful for my own life.

The book also features some interesting information regarding the history and culture of Afghanistan, and it’s easy to read style make this a book which I can heartily recommend to anyone who is interested in the country and the lives of those who dwell within it.

Shocking at times and always thought provoking – I definitely recommend this book, and will be keeping my eyes open for further work by this author.

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I’m not really sure how to write this review…this is an absolutely wonderful book, and I really want to try and do it justice.

Set in Mumbai in the 1970s when India has been declared in a State of Emergency by the Prime Minister Indira Ghandi, it tells the story of four people who are brought together, and the effect that the relationships between them have on their lives.  Dina Dalal is a widow, fiercely independent and determined to support herself, rather than rely on her brother’s financial help, or get remarried.

Ishvar and Omprakash (Om) are tailors from a low caste, who seek work in Mumbai and find themselves working for Dina.

Maneck is a young man, brought up in a loving family in the mountains, who comes to the city to attend college and needs a room to rent.

All of them are from very different backgrounds, but are thrown together as they try to make lives for themselves during what is a very difficult period in India.

The first half of the book centres on the histories of the characters and tells how they came to find themselves in their respective situations.  The second half concentrates more on the bond between the four of them, and the trials that they face as individuals and as a group.

There is also much in the book about life in India at the time, and how difficult it was for so many citizens.

I adored this book.  Each character was so beautifully drawn that I felt that I really knew them, and I certainly came to care very much about them.  The descriptions of some of the horrors that took place were gut wrenching and very distressing to read about – all the more so, because I was aware that such things really did happen.  It certainly made me realise how lucky I am to have the freedoms and privileges that most of the time we all take for granted.  This is a tale of a population which has been failed by it’s government – and when the rulers of a land can’t abide by their own rules, how can anyone else be expected to?  I could only read with trepidation as some of the characters seemed to be drawn along a road that could only lead to heartache.

There are a number of other characters who are relatively minor, but all of whom were fleshed out and were entirely believable.

The writing was beautiful – so eloquent, but also very accessible.  The location and time were really brought to life.

At no point did I get bored – I just wanted to read on and learn more about the lives of these fascinating people, and the ending when it came, took my breath away.

This is a wonderfully written, warm and absorbing read – very highly recommended indeed.  (Don’t be put off by the length – you may well wish it was even longer!)

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