“Six Suspects has more than passed the test: like Slumdog Millionaire, it has unforgettable characters, a perfect plot, a sharp pace, and is set against a background of condemnation of the powerful and commitment to those less fortunate, however it goes further still in its reflection on justice and power…An equally entertaining and profound book.”
—El País (Spain)
“Much to enjoy. . . . The solution in the final pages is particularly cunning.”
—The Daily Telegraph
“This is a sprawling novel about life and politics and corruption and greed in contemporary India. . . . A breathtaking piece of writing on an epic scale.”
—Sunday Star-Times (New Zealand)
“A teeming, beguiling Indian panorama wrapped in a clever whodunit.”
“Six Suspects is an absolute delight.”
—Malay Mail (Malaysia)
“Enriched by the sights and smells of contemporary India, this mystery shows Swarup to be a skillful prose stylist and deft handler of plot, who’s likely to win more readers.”
“A page-turner of a murder mystery.”
“Charming, atmospheric, and driven equally by character and plot, Six Suspects is bound to be popular with traditional mystery fans and readers of international crime fiction, as well as the legion of Slumdog devotees. Highly recommended.”
“A fascinating, multi-voiced slice of Indian life across the castes with political corruption at its centre. . . . A lovely, lovely book.”
“[Swarup] has managed to imbue each of these six suspects with enough character and detail that the reader cannot help but be swept along by the narrative.”
—The Star (Malaysia)
“Neat, clever and loads and loads of fun.”
“A fierce and brillant portrait of manners and morals in contemporary India.”
“A fast-paced screwball comedy, socio-critical yet hilarious. This is Vikas Swarup at his best.” —Deutschlandradio (Germany)
“‘Slumdog Millionaire’ was Vikas Swarup’s first bestseller. This farraginous crime novel is a worthy successor.”
“This novel reads like a racy schuss through contemporary India.”
—Welt am Sonntag (Germany)
“A fast-paced novel, satirical and wickedly funny.”
—Frankfurter Rundschau (Germany)
“It has the same virtues as Slumdog Millionaire: surprising inventiveness, original plot, wild narrative pace, a (dark) sense of humor, and an icy critique, all wrapped up as a comedy to make it more palatable for the reader”
—El Periódico (Spain)
“An intense and funny thriller, moral but not sentimental.”
—Io Donna (Italy)
“A thriller that you can read in one swallow right up to the final denouement.”
—D di Repubblica (Italy)
“All the ingredients of his debut novel are present: a strong story structure, a smooth no-nonsense narrative style with a lot of humor, and a kaleidoscopic overview of the Indian society.”
—HP/De Tijd (Holland)
“Swarup is a smooth storyteller, and writes good dialogue.”
—NRC Handelsblad (Holland)
“Vikas Swarup is a writer, a great novelist, a brilliant storyteller”
—Le Point (France)
“Disorientating, entertaining and mysterious, the new ‘comedy-thriller’ from Vikas Swarup thrills our every nerve…you are left with excitement and happiness that builds right to the last page”
“Swarup has a redeeming eye for the disparities that define Indian society.”
by Marcel Berlins
July 27, 2008
I do not normally recommend crime novels longer than 500 pages [Editorial Note: the published version is a mere 472 pages!]. They rarely repay that amount of attention. I’m making an exception with Vikas Swarup’s ‘Six Suspects’: it’s unusual, witty, quirky, cleverly plotted, intelligent, and along the way it’s an informative satire on Indian politics and values.
It begins and ends with the shooting of a rich, spoilt playboy, ‘Vicky’ Rai, at his own lavish party, held to celebrate his wrongful acquittal on a murder charge – engineered by his corrupt father, the Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Everyone at the party was searched, but only six were found to have guns, a disparate bunch with wildly different possible motives – personal, political, and plain dotty.
The final few chapters provide an array of solutions. In between, Swarup relates the often comic, intertwining stories of the six, leading up the fatal evening. Too long, yes, but ‘Six Suspects’ is a rollicking good read.
Books of the Times
Here’s a Clue: Mr. Kumar, With a Gun, in India
By JANET MASLIN
Published: June 24, 2009
“Q&A,” the novel that became the basis for the smash-hit film “Slumdog Millionaire,” used questions from a television quiz show to prompt flashbacks about its main character’s life story. Here’s a question for its author, Vikas Swarup: Can a novel be any more high-concept than that?
Yes it can. Mr. Swarup’s second novel, “Six Suspects,” is a Bollywood version of the board game Clue with a strain of screwball comedy thrown in. Its stock characters are easily identified: the Bureaucrat, the Actress, the Tribal, the Thief, the Politician and the American. Each attended the party at which a man named Vicky Rai, a playboy film producer, was murdered. Each has a gun and a motive. And although the story’s geographical span is even bigger than India, the whole thing feels handily confined to the kind of isolated, air-tight setting that Agatha Christie’s readers love.
Thanks to such a schematic setup “Six Suspects” is gleeful, sneaky fun. But it’s also a much more freewheeling book than the format implies. Mr. Swarup, an Indian diplomat, brings a worldly range of attributes to his potentially simple story. And he winds up delivering a rambling critique of Indian culture, taking shots at everything from racism to reality TV. Yet Mr. Swarup’s style stays light and playful, preferring to err on the side of broad high jinks rather than high seriousness. A fizzy romp seems to be the main thing he has in mind.
Oddly enough, that ambition turns this formulaic-sounding book into a refreshing oddity. It bears no resemblance to any of the cookie-cutter genre books of this season. Its idiosyncrasy becomes apparent with the first of the six suspects, the Bureaucrat: Mohan Kumar, who was a man of power and influence until he hit forced retirement at 60. Thus adrift, he lets himself be coaxed to a séance at which the spirit of Gandhi is scheduled to appear. “I see dead people,” someone at the séance says with a snicker.
Mohan has no belief in the claptrap of séances. And as a hard-drinking, meat-eating adulterer, he hasn’t much use for Gandhi anyhow. But a funny thing happens at the gathering: Mohan has the strange sensation that a foreign object is sliding down his throat. Soon afterward he develops a split personality. He insists that he is a holy man half the time. But he can forget all about this posturing and resume his old vices as if nothing had happened.
“Six Suspects” is zany enough to get Mohan jailed and give him a cellmate who utters nothing but the titles of novels. For instance: “What are you in jail for?” “Atonement.” “And what do you think will be your punishment?” “One hundred years of solitude.” “Who is your best friend here?” “The boy in the striped pajamas.” Laugh or groan at this, either way it gets your attention.
So do Mr. Swarup’s plot machinations about Shabnam Saxena, a smoldering Bollywood star who somehow takes her marching orders from Nietzsche (and at one point grills another character about his familiarity with the writing of Bernard Malamud). Shabnam worries so much about her image and reputation that she really ought to anticipate how much trouble the story has thrown her way, once there turns out to be an innocent country girl who looks enough like Shabnam to be her double.
Meanwhile, on a plane from the United States, an idiot named Larry Page is headed from Texas to India with plans to make Shabnam his bride. Somebody duped him into falling in love with her picture and mistaking her for a mail-order bride.
Larry, of course, has his own capacity for creating mix-ups, since he shares his name with one of the two Google founders and strikes ruthless terrorists as a good target for kidnapping. Mr. Swarup generally treats his characters warmly, but this American is made a boorish lout. The book says that Larry might look like Michael J. Fox, but only if he lost a lot of weight.
“Six Suspects” also condescends to the character it calls the Tribal, a black, five-foot-tall Onge tribesman who is treated like a slave when he is brought from his native island to mainland India. Yet this character, whose name is Eketi, still becomes Mr. Swarup’s most lovable creation. While the others have their venal motives, Eketi has a kind heart, but he is beautiful to only the blind woman who falls in love with him. The odd-couple romances that bloom in these pages help tie together what are essentially six novellas. And they lead to the fateful night that culminates in Vicky Rai’s murder.
Eventually Mr. Swarup will provide the necessary denouement to his whodunit. And that denouement may be even more mysterious than it had to be. But the real fun here is in watching the separate story lines develop and in watching Mr. Swarup weave commentary into even his book’s looniest moments. When Shabnam makes a film in Australia and watches blond female dancers trying to perfect their Bollywood choreography, she wonders if she isn’t watching some kind of colonialism in reverse. When a rich girl falls in love with a poor boy, in a plot twist straight out of Indian romance movies, that boy responds with a figurative wink. “I don’t know whether to thank God or Bollywood for this remarkable turnaround,” he says.
“Six Suspects” aspires to broadly entertaining pratfalls, and it is endlessly eager to please. Not even the corrupt politician who figures in the plot (and whose wheeling and dealing are conveyed by transcripts of his outrageous phone calls) is terribly complicated, although Mr. Swarup can use the simplest characters to create frissons of mystery. The politician is Vicky Rai’s father, and he has grown increasingly impatient with his son’s arrogance.
“You must be familiar with the concept of sacrifice,” he tells his chief henchman. “Have you heard of Abraham?” That makes him one more murder suspect in this book’s expertly delirious scheme.
Find the review at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/25/books/25maslin.html
Books \ Reviews
MAGAZINE | JUL 21, 2008
Who Killed Vicky Rai?
The story is definitely Jessica Lall. But the shooter acquitted, it takes a life all its own, via six narratives.
If rani pink is the new black, Six Suspects is crime noir. Trashy, louche, streetsmart and suave, it is as Delhi as it comes. The carpet may be Bukhara but this one is about the sweepings beneath, and not merely the whiff in the lungful of Clive Christian # 1 you just inhaled. This book is, to quote one of its characters, “about as subtle as a horse turd in the cream pitcher.”
Which is exactly why it works. Anger electrifies it, making the flat, unimaginative prose an asset, not a liability.
Swarup reins back humor, hyperbole, insult, and relies instead on that most Indian of weapons—shrewdness. He reads his characters as a chess player reads an adversary and this makes him an excellent ventriloquist; all six suspects have believable voices.
This is a morality play; its strength, the suspects’ narratives. Swarup gets into his characters’ skin fast. That’s no mean skill.
Difficile est saturam non scribere—it’s hard not to write a satire—Juvenal’s prefatory sentence justifies Six Suspects, a roman a clef based on the murder of model and socialite Jessica Lall. The facts are common knowledge.
The murderer’s acquittal sets off paroxysms of ire among the capital’s Beautiful People and a retrial resulted in conviction.
What if there had been no public backlash? This premise starts the book. “Not all deaths are equal. There’s a caste system even in murder. The stabbing of an impoverished rickshaw-puller is no more than a statistic, buried in the inside pages of the newspaper. But the murder of a celebrity instantly becomes prime time news.” The novel follows real events up to the shooter’s acquittal. From then on, Swarup invents a series of events leading to the murder of Vicky Rai, the man who murdered model Ruby Gill.
Vicky Rai is shot at the party celebrating his acquittal. There are six suspects. Shabnam Saxena, Bollywood enchantress, described as the ultimate wet dream. Munna Mobile, the cellular thief from Mehrauli. Eketi, the Andaman islander on a mission to recover the stolen sacred rock, the ingetayi of his tribe. Home minister Jagannath Rai, who has all of Uttar Pradesh trapped in his corrupt coils. Larry Page, the forklift operator from Waco, Texas, in search of his mail-order bride. And Mohan Kumar, retired bureaucrat, periodically possessed by the spirit of Gandhi.
There are no surprises. Everything abides with the script and the characters are stereotypes that never rise above the moment. Vicky richly deserved to be murdered and the six lives we’re led through explain the justice of his killing.
This is a morality play. Its strength lies in the narratives of the suspects. Swarup gets into the skin of his characters quickly and without fuss. With the first few sentences of each narrative, the reader experiences the character. That’s no mean skill in a novelist. He can also zoom into the core emotion with an intelligence that has nothing at all to do with analysis. Munna, helpless and terrified, watching his beloved adopted sister Champi struggling with her rapist, goes through the gamut of terror, sorrow, denial, uncertainty before he gets resolve enough to lash out—and the writer’s not ashamed of Munna’s ambivalence.
The travails of Larry Page are picaresque enough to stand alone. The slow, kind American, his development arrested somewhere between deprived childhood and grudging puberty, discovers his mail-order bride Sapna Singh is a swindle as soon as he lands in Delhi—she’s really Shabnam Saxena the actress. No matter. Mr Gupta of Shylock Detective Agency will track her down. Meanwhile, Larry must wait at a cruddy hotel in Paharganj. “In just three days, Delhi had broken my heart, blown my mind and blasted my intestines.” Page’s adventures are yet to begin. Swarup is deft in limning Larry’s education from credulity through forbearance to energetic seize-the-day opportunism.
Equally canny is the pathos of Eketi who plays out Larry Page’s story in reverse.Eketi narrowly misses being killed in a bomb blast at Magh Mela. “Allahabad Railway Station bore no sign of the carnage happening in another part of town. Trains came and went. Passengers embarked and disembarked. Porters hustled and bustled. It was business as usual.” Banal? Yes, but it captures Eketi’s desolation.
I worry that this novel will be read as a thriller. It is a grim carousel of games sacred and profane, a neat leela that capsules our times.
By Jake Kerridge
Vicky Rai, the playboy son of a corrupt Indian politician, is shot dead: six unlikely suspects had the means and motive. Vikas Swarup’s ambitious scheme is to detail the events that have led to these disparate characters becoming potential murderers, an attempt to marry a Rohinton Mistry-style panorama of Indian life and a page-turning thriller.
The result is a hodgepodge of stories jostling for attention and interrupting one another: I enjoyed the boorish bureaucrat who suffered from spells of thinking he was Gandhi, but the Onge tribesman’s tale is weighed down by research, and the Texan tourist seems to speak in rejected dialogue from The Dukes of Hazzard.
But there is much to enjoy, especially the trenchant analysis of Indian politics (Swarup is a diplomat) and the solution in the final pages is particularly cunning
October 19, 2008
This is a sprawling novel about life and politics and corruption and greed in contemporary India. It reminded me somewhat of Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker Prize winner, The White Tiger, certainly the class and caste system and the vast gulf between the life of the privileged and under-privileged is strongly present in both.
A rich, young and totally unscrupulous man named Vicky Rai, who knows his corrupt politician father can get him out of any scrape shoots dead a barmaid when she refuses him a drink after closing time. Although the crime is witnessed by several he is acquitted after a farcical trial and widespread outrage among the masses follows.
To add insult to injury the acquitted man holds a huge celebratory party for several hundred guests at his luxurious farmhouse outside Delhi. At the party, shortly after midnight, he is shot dead and there are six suspects all found to have pistols in their possession when the police search the party-goers.
This then is how the novels begins.
Swarup then looks bnack and presents us with the life story of each of these suspects all unknown to each other, with Vicky Rai being the only common link. It really is a breathtaking piece of writing on an epic scale and once I got the sound of the various voices in my head I must say I found it an engrossing read. It does take some concentration though with a vast number of colorful characters throughout.
The six suspects are an American tourist, a Bollywood starlet, a mobile phone thief, a corrupt businessman, a tribesman from Andaman Islands, and the victim’s father, Jagannath Rai, who is also the Home Minister for the State of Uttar Pradesh. All have strong motives and of course all have come to the party armed.
In a way Swarup provides a collection of six longish short stories or novellas about each of the suspects and what a diverse bunch they are. Although this is a crime fiction novel with its fair share of murder and mayhem there is also a great deal of humor to be found in Six Suspects and I found myself chuckling out loud at times. At one stage when our corrupt businessman is in jail he shares a cell with a former Professor of English whose conversation is made up entirely of the names of great English novels which is very well done.
I would warmly recommend (it) if you are facing two twelve hour flights to get to Europe or have a week planned on a Pacific Island.
July 15, 2009
In this neatly constructed mystery, Indian author Swarup (whose 2005 novel, Q&A , was made into the film Slumdog Millionaire ) provides a vivid portrait of his country and its culture. The premise is simple: after 32-year-old industrialist Vivek “Vicky” Rai (“the poster boy for sleaze”) is acquitted of a much-witnessed murder, he’s shot and killed at a party. The six suspects are the partygoers found to be armed: a retired bureaucrat who’s sporadically possessed by Mahatma Gandhi, a famous Bollywood actress, an Onge native sent to retrieve a sacred relic, a poor cell-phone thief, a Texan seeking his mail-order bride, and Vicky’s own power-hungry politician father. Background pieces about each suspect paint a picture of flagrant corruption, murder, and betrayal, as well as compassion and love, as the suspects’ lives occasionally intersect. Revelations in the closing pages incite the population to call for much-needed reforms. Still, as the truth is revealed in layers, like the peeling of an onion, it’s also clear that plus ça change….
VERDICT: Enriched by the sights and smells of contemporary India, this mystery shows Swarup to be a skillful prose stylist and deft handler of plot, who’s likely to win more readers.
Reviewed by Dave Williamson
June 21, 2009
INDIA’S Vikas Swarup hit the jackpot with his first novel Q&A, which became the Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire.
He now delivers an action-packed and often hilarious followup that exposes corruption in high places.
In the opening pages, Swarup divulges that a young industry mogul named Vicky Rai has been murdered.
The deed was done at a large party hosted by Vicky himself to celebrate his being cleared of killing a female bartender named Ruby Gill.
The police have identified six suspects. Swarup devotes the next 400 pages to the individual stories of how each of the six became implicated. What pulls the reader through the novel is wondering how such a disparate group could have ended up at Vicky’s place and why they wanted to kill him.
Part of the fun lies in Swarup’s using a different narrative style for each story. Also, Vicky is such a nasty fellow, just about anybody wouldn’t mind seeing him dead.
The six suspects are:
– Mohan Kumar, former chief secretary of the state of Uttar Pradesh; through a scary incident, he develops Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and from time to time takes on the soul of some other person, often Mahatma Gandhi.
– Munna Mobile, a lower-class young man who has a knack for stealing cellphones out of cars; one such theft leads him to a briefcase full of money. He falls in love with a mysterious young woman who turns out to be Vicky’s sister Ritu.
– Shabnam Saxena, one of India’s best-known movie actresses. Beautiful, eloquent, and adept at keeping Vicky Rai at bay, she falls victim to a double-cross.
Her story is told through her personal diary.
– Larry Page, a naive Texan who’s often mistaken for the head of Google; he goes to India expecting to marry a young woman he’s been corresponding with. Larry tells his own story in a kind of Texas twang (“[The roads] were so bad, even buzzards couldn’t fly over them, and so crooked you could see your own tail light”).
– Eketi Onge, a rather primitive young man sent to India by an island tribe anxious to recover a sacred stone that had been stolen from his people. He falls for
Munna’s blind sister.
– Jagganath Rai, politician — home minister of Uttar Pradesh — and Vicky’s father; his story is told entirely through telephone conversations.
It would’ve been helpful if the book included maps and a glossary. The latter is needed to explain some of the Hindi terms, especially those used for clothing.
But the novel is mostly hair-raising fun. For literature lovers there’s even a character who speaks in nothing but book titles.
There are some crazy coincidences, some zany twists, as well as an investigative journalist’s columns and, as the novel rushes to its surprise conclusion, some TV news reports.
Put Six Suspects on your list of compulsory beach reading.
Dave Williamson is a Winnipeg novelist.
Review by James Urquhart
Published: March 2 2009
This is the second novel from the author of Q&A, made into the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire. Gangster and playboy Vivek Rai is shot at a party that he threw after being acquitted of murder. His father, the thoroughly nasty home minister of Uttar Pradesh, is one of six suspects arrested for his killing, along with a Bollywood actress, a tribal Andaman islander and a mobile phone thief.
Retired bureaucrat Mohan Kumar and a “dim-witted” American visiting India in search of his fictitious pen-pal fiancé complete the cast.
A labyrinthine plot explores the possible motives of each of the intriguing (if mostly grotesque) characters, with initially obscure links gradually coalescing. Swarup’s saga packs in plenty of action and this penchant for farce has a cinematic, slapstick quality but the brutally venal Rai dynasty allows plenty of vigorous sniping at India’s endemic political corruption.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009
A whodunit with six fascinating stories set in India
Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup (Doubleday)
Following up his brilliant debut Q&A, Swarup once again delves into modern Indian society and its interface with cultural norms.
A notoriously crooked businessman has been murdered, and six diverse suspects seem just as likely to have pulled the trigger.
From the famous Bollywood star to the primitive tribal islander, each has his or her reason to hate the victim, and the means and opportunity to have killed him. The result is an intriguing interweaving of the six suspects’ stories.
Could the reason for his death be a political manoeuvre by his father? Or could it be the ghost of Ghandi has really entered a callous rich man in order to plan the killing?
Six Suspects is fascinating, brilliantly conceived and rich in quirky and unique twists.
Book Review: Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup
Black Swan; 575 pages; Rs.255
It is really amazing where and how a diplomat like Vikas Swarup had kept his story telling skills so long in hiatus; Those who reads his second book Six Suspects’ cannot but agree his style and imagination make one glued to the book till they come to the last page of it. Vikas has proved beyond doubt that ‘Q&A’ is not just a flash in the pan but an expression of a talented and gifted writer’s concern on the day to day activities of the present India .
‘Six Suspects’ takes a bold step further and the book is almost an odyssey one could take from the urban and corrupt capital to the forlorn and virgin islands of Andamans traveling through several cosmopolitan cities of new India.
The unexpected murder of Vicky Rai, the wayward son of an equally wilful Jagannath Rai, Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh brings the desolate, depressing and terrible long stories of six visitors with gun in their possession to the party of Vicky Rai with palpable motive. They were surprisingly represented by a suave bureaucrat to a guileless tribal. The others were a petty thief, a glamorous actress, a ruthless politician, and a gullible American.
Each one has a pretty long story behind before they assemble along with the other distinguished guests on the day of murder at the farm house of Mehrauli. Notwithstanding the five hundred odd pages what sustains the interest in tact are the contemporary political and social scenario and the racy narrative. The candid language without unnecessary frills but with phrases those are pungent and hard hitting go in favor of the author’s ability to attract the readers. There are definitely instances too where one cannot but chuckle.
Well, the novel has its quota of supernatural imagery in the form of the séance, the misfortune that fell on those who keeps the ingetayi, the saving spirit of the tribals. The contemporary cosmopolitan life full of inhuman, mercenary, consumeristic, indifferent attitudes has been unleashed without any pretensions. The reader could feel the heat of the burning truth of the incidents because they form a coherent interpretation of our daily lives.
The last 50 pages of the novel almost keep you on the edge with as many twists and turns.
The two chapters in these fifty pages, one the open letter of Arun Advani the investigating journalist and the section titled Confession are remarkable because every sentence in these two parts reflect our present society in no uncertain terms shearing all the fancy and glamorous exteriors.
The author uses the quote ‘Nothing in the world is harder than speaking the truth’ from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Yes, Vikas has spoken the truth in this book about the modern India in all her uncouth public and political postures. ‘No one comes down from heaven to sort out the mess on earth. You have to take off your shoes, hitch up your trousers and wade through the sodden muddy pit’ must be the best and apt description that should suit the present day living.
The last line of the novel ‘And even murder can become addictive’ indubitably sends a chill up the spine on a serious reader because of its disturbing poignancy.
‘Six Suspects’ cannot be just called an amusing novel. It is a message to be read by all who can read prose.
Waterstone’s Books Quarterly
Six Suspects is a fiendishly constructed murder mystery in the tradition of Agatha Christie, but given a modern twist.
Vivek ‘Vicky’ Rai, the playboy son of the Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh, shot Ruby Gill at a restaurant seven years ago, just because she refused to serve him a drink. Now Rai has been murdered at a party thrown to celebrate his acquittal.
The six suspects are all guests at the party, and all possess guns. All six have motive enough to murder Rai; investigative journalist Arun Advani must try to unravel the tangled stories of these six suspicious characters.
The reader is pulled along by the plot, teased into formulating his own solution, following the clues skilfully placed by Swarup in this page-turner of a mystery
Reviewing the Evidence
The best way to describe this book is in terms of its structure. The first nine pages consist of a newspaper column describing the murder of Vicky Rai, an event which has dominated Indian news since it occurred, two days previous to the writing of the column. Vivek ‘Vicky’ Rai was a millionaire industrialist and playboy with a long history of bad behaviour culminating in his shooting of a bar worker, Ruby Gill, who refused to serve him a drink. Although everyone knew that he had done this, his father, the corrupt Home Minister of Utter Pradesh, ensured that he was acquitted. Vicky threw a big party to celebrate his acquittal and at that party he was shot dead. The police sealed the party and arrest the six people found in possession of guns – a corrupt former Civil Servant, an American who claims to be a film producer, a ‘tribal’ from Jharkhand, an unemployed graduate with a record as a mobile-phone thief, an up-and-coming actress, and Jagannath Rai, Vicky’s father. These are the six suspects.
The next section of the book ‘Suspects’ spends some 90 pages introducing us to each of these characters; in ‘Motives’ we have 374 pages telling the story of each suspect in more detail and explaining why they arrived at Vicky Rai’s party with a gun; ‘Evidence’ devotes 35 pages to telling of the events of the party and its immediate aftermath; ‘Solution’ is 30 pages of dazzling twists as various solutions are propounded and finally the 9 pages of ‘Confession’ give us the truth of the matter. Now I tabulate in this manner in order to emphasize that well over 450 pages are devoted to the telling of the stories of each of the six suspects and each of these stories is, in the main, an isolated one. Swarup employs differing narrative techniques for each of these stories. Thus those of Mohun Kaur, the corrupt Civil Servant, and Eketi, the ‘tribal’, are told in the third-person; Shabnam Saxena (the actress) in a first-person diary; Larry Page (the American) and Munna Mobile (the thief) in traditional first-person; Jagannath Rai solely through the medium of phone conversations.
In trying to assess SIX SUSPECTS (Swarup’s first book Q AND A has been adapted for the cinema as SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) I start from the position that my knowledge of Indian literature is, I am ashamed to admit, almost zero. Then by chance I came across the following comments on Indian writers by David Baddiel in The (UK) Times ‘the books are always very long, the comedy is always very broad, the moral emphasis is always very foregrounded, and blimey there are a lot of characters’. Now I have no doubt that this is an absolutely absurd generalization when applied to as diverse and rich a subject as Indian fiction. But the description certainly applies to SIX SUSPECTS. First it is very long! 550 pages is a lot. And given this, it is remarkable that my interest never waned for an instant. The structural techniques play a large part in this; each of the six stories is in its own way utterly compelling. They cover a vast sweep and every level of Indian society is examined – this is ‘sociological suspense’ on a truly epic scale. Swarup’s mastery of narrative impetus is extraordinary. Next the comedy is broad. This comedy is concentrated in the stories of Mohun Kaur and above all Larry Page, and, especially in the case of the latter, is very broad; Swarup has a great deal of fun with American ignorance but he gets away with it because Page is basically a sympathetic character. The moral emphasis is indeed ‘very foregrounded’ most especially in the stories of Eketi and Munna Mobile but it runs through every part of the book; this is, and I use a cliche because sometimes cliches are the best description, a ‘searing indictment’ of Indian political and social life. The story of Eketi in particular, a subject which I knew nothing of, is utterly shocking. But moral indignation runs throughout the book. Finally there are a lot of characters! Indeed at times I wanted a ‘character index’ at the back of the book just to check out who some of the people were. And while many of the characters we encounter (beyond our six suspects) are vivid and memorable, some inevitably are less than that.
It is impossible to give more than indications in a short review of the breadth and depth of approaches in a book as rich and diverse as SIX SUSPECTS. One important point to make however is that the level of realism employed in the six stories varies widely; as a general rule it may said that Swarup never allows realism to stand in the way of the much more important moral, political or social truths which he is attempting to convey. This includes a use of folk-lore and ‘woo-woo’, which latter however the reader is at liberty to read just as she or he wishes.
While SIX SUSPECTS is very distinctively Indian this is not to say there are not constant references to a global world (the interaction of Western and Indian influences and culture is a constant theme) ; there are also references to the Western mystery. From the PI who styles himself on Sherlock Holmes (a comic reference) we move to the much deeper and tragic reference in the story of Eketi. Eketi is in fact an Andaman Islander and the most famous (if not only?) Andaman Islander in the Western mystery canon is, of course, he who appears in Doyle’s appallingly and casually racist account as ‘Tonga’ in THE SIGN OF THE FOUR. Swarup however is not only referring back to this but constantly shows how modern-day Indians treat the Islanders in a similarly appalling racist and imperialist manner. In a different mode and beyond the purview of mystery fiction Larry Page is a kind of dumbed-down Candide.
When turning finally to the question of assessment I find myself forced to question one of my own dearest tenets – that concerning the horror of any phrase involving ‘transcending the bounds of the genre’. I don’t think SIX SUSPECTS does that but it does push the bounds; and it does so because it applies what I take to be a very Indian consciousness to the genre. This is not to say that in the denouement Swarup does not use a battery of plot tricks and revelations which would fit neatly in any superior traditional mystery; he certainly does have these devices at his disposal. But the bulk of the book, with its separate stories, has a reach far beyond the conventional Western mystery, a reach which I take it comes from its Indian heritage. I certainly would not judge everything to be triumphantly successful; in particular some of the moralizing at times struck me as forced in terms of the characters delivering the moral.
If you like small-scale detailed psychological examinations you may find this book is not for you. But in my judgement SIX SUSPECTS is massive in scale, massive in scope and, above all, massive in achievement; it does, and I can hardly believe I am saying this, push the boundaries in terms of what mystery fiction can mean and accomplish.
Reviewed by Nick Hay, February 2009
The author of Q&A (2005), the novel that became the film Slumdog Millionaire, returns with an equally high-concept tale that uses a murder investigation to launch a riotous tour of contemporary India.
After several years of legal proceedings, Vivek (Vicky) Rai is finally acquitted of a murder he undoubtedly committed. His father Jagannath, Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh, throws him the party to end all parties—at which Vicky is shot dead. The Delhi police identify six suspects: corrupt womanizer Mohan Kumar; Shabnam Saxena, a sizzling actress Vicky had been pursuing; Hollywood adult-film producer Rick Myers; cell-phone thief Munna Mobile; Eketi Onge, member of a vanishing tribe from an island in the Bay of Bengal; and Jagannath Rai himself. As their back stories reveal, each had a powerful motive for wanting Vicky dead. But those back stories serve mainly as pretexts for a series of fantastical adventures that have little to do with the question of who killed Vicky. Munna, whose experiences most closely recall those of Ram in Q&A, hurtles from rags to riches, from impossible love to intolerable pressure. Tribesman Eketi, pursuing a totemic stone stolen from his people, is by turns befriended and exploited by a series of heartless manipulators before finding his ideal in Munna’s sister Champi. An American Candide (later linked to the murder investigation) flies to India in search of his mail-order bride, gets fleeced and ensnared in terrorism, then is placed in the Witness Protection Program. Shabnam Saxena grooms a destitute supplicant to be her professional double, with predictable results (think All About Eve with a vengeance). And the ruthless public officials of Uttar Pradash struggle to outdo each other in their zestful search for more money and power. Along the way, a hundred walk-on characters flare to vivid life, then vanish in the rearview mirror to make way for others equally memorable.
Despite some inevitable repetition and a gimmicky frame, a teeming, beguiling Indian panorama wrapped in a clever whodunit.
Murder mystery doubles as social satire by Amanda Lorentz
25 October 2008
SIX Suspects is wonderful, witty and sophisticated — and probably one of the best literary mysteries of the year.
Vikas Swarup toys with western prejudices and misconceptions about India, tackling and condemning major institutions such as business, politics, religion and Bollywood while championing the gentle and often noble nature of Indians.
Playboy “Vicky” Rai, son of a powerful politician, has got away with murder yet again, thanks to his megalomaniacal father’s manipulation of a corrupt justice system, and is celebrating the acquittal at his huge urban private estate, known as “The Farm”.
Everyone who is anyone is obliged to attend this social event of the season, but few of the business billionaires, political pundits or stars of state and screen feel anything but fear, contempt or revulsion for their host.
When Vicky is shot dead at the height of his party, the police act immediately, sealing off The Farm and searching everyone present .
The police find six people with guns in their possession and these are the titular suspects, who are arrested and investigated. The book recounts their histories and the events leading up to the shooting, with alternating chapters devoted to the back stories of the unlikely sextet under suspicion.
Unlikely because the group consists of a politician, Vicky’s father Home Minister Jagannath Rai; a retired bureaucrat and business mogul Mohan Kumar; sex symbol and Bollywood superstar Shabnam Saxena; the naive Eketi, a member of a primitive tribe; minor league sneak thief “Munna Mobile”; and the dim and gullible American, Larry Page.
Larry is flying to India to marry the beautiful girl he met through International Pen Pals. Being a friendly fellow, he chats to his neighbour on the plane and is soon showing him pictures of his fiancée. “I tell you … I can’t believe my luck.”
The fellow passenger replies : “I’m sorry to say dude, but you’ve been had. These are photos of the famous actress Shabnam Saxena.”
Being several sandwiches short of a picnic, Larry convinces himself Shabnam has in fact fallen in love with him, a short plump forklift operator from Texas. All he has to do now is find her. His life is complicated by the fact that he shares a name with the inventor of Google and is frequently mistaken for him — he is soon kidnapped and held for a ransom of $3bn.
Mohan, the utterly venal and corrupt former bureaucrat, is finding retirement a bore. His mistress persuades him to accompany her to a public seance where a medium will attempt to make contact with the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi.
An atheist and a sceptic, Mohan reluctantly agrees to attend the televised event, where his contacts have assured him of front-row seats. So he has an excellent view as an outraged Hindu nationalist shoots the medium for dishonouring Gandhi’s memory with a commercial spectacle.
Mohan faints in the ensuing melee and when he comes to, he has been possessed by the spirit of the Mahatma. His state of possession comes and goes: when Gandhi is in control, Kumar devotes himself to helping the poor, correcting injustices and leading a life of spiritual rectitude and physical asceticism — much to the disgust of his own spirit.
Swarup uses wit and hyperbole to expose the inequities of Indian society and, although he exaggerates situations for dramatic effect, one suspects there is an underlying truth to all his observations.
This is a murder mystery, but the twists and turns and various solutions are so convoluted the identity of the killer becomes irrelevant, especially in comparison to the stories of the six suspects, their tragedies, romances, cruelties, ridiculousness, vanity and courage that makes them, like us, human.
18 October 2008
Stretching the imagination
The fêted author of ‘Q&A’ has created a fascinating, if fanciful, new whodunit, writes Bridget McNulty.
A book about a powerful man who gets away with murder (literally and figuratively) might not seem like entertaining reading for many South Africans at the moment. But Vikas Swarup’s second novel, Six Suspects, is nothing if not an enormously entertaining read.
It tells the story of Vivek “Vicky” Rai, the playboy devil- may-care son of the home minister of Uttar Pradesh, and a man (it seems) who can do as he pleases, and never worry about the consequences. Seven years earlier, he murdered a bartender when she refused to serve him a drink at a trendy restaurant in New Delhi. Now he himself has been murdered — and there are six suspects.
Arun Advani, India’s well- known investigative journalist, introduces the book, and leads the reader into three in-depth sections: “Suspects”, “Motives” and “Evidence”.
From here, the suspects take over. We are introduced to the bureaucrat, Mohan Kumar (who is possessed by the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi); the actress, screen diva Shabnam Saxena; the tribal character, Eketi, on his first visit to the mainland; Munna Mobile, the thief; home minister Jagganath Rai (and father to Vicky Rai) and lastly, Larry Page, the American (and not the founder of Google).
Through these six suspects, the story unfolds, and it is a story that is as complex as it is multilayered, as textured as it is colorful.
Mystery & Suspense
Review Date: July 2009
Crime and punishment in India
Review by Tasha Alexander
Vikas Swarup’s Six Suspects is not an ordinary murder mystery. Vicky Rai is as awful a reprobate as an author could create—”the poster boy for sleaze in this country.” Insider trading, defrauding investors, bribery and tax evasion are just the beginning. He lacks any remorse for having run down six people while drunkenly driving the swanky BMW his father gave him for a birthday present. As a follow-up, he kills two bucks on a wildlife sanctuary. Finally, in a crowded bar, he shoots a beautiful bartender named Ruby Gill point-blank in the face, angry that she wouldn’t serve him another drink after closing time.
If there’s anything Vicky excels at, it’s escaping punishment. After a five-year trial, he’s found not guilty of this grotesque crime. But while celebrating his acquittal at a blowout bash, he is shot to death. The police seal the scene and search all the guests, identifying six suspects, each of whom is carrying a different gun.
And it’s here that Swarup’s story takes off. Not only does he reject the standard structure for a crime novel, there is also no traditional detective or brave hero to be found. Rather than planting clues and flashing red herrings, he tells the tale of each of the suspects—a career bureaucrat suffering from split personality disorder (half the time he believes he’s Mahatma Gandhi), a scary-naïve American tourist who’s come to India thinking he’s getting a mail-order bride, a cell phone thief, a tribesman from the Andaman Islands, a sexy Bollywood actress, and Vicky’s own father.
Swarup has taken an ambitious step with this book, and it’s a fascinating and complex read, as well as a journey through diverse views of modern India. Rich with culture, this novel should not be left out of any holidaymaker’s suitcase.
Tasha Alexander is the author of And Only to Deceive. Her latest novel, Tears of Pearl, will be published in September.
Review by Ayo Onatade
Ayo Onatade is an avid reader of crime and mystery fiction. She has been writing reviews, interviews and articles on the subject for the last 12 years; with an eclectic taste from historical to hardboiled, short stories and noir films
This is the second novel to be written by Indian diplomat, Vikas Swarup and is based on true life events. It is a multi layered story about crime and corruption in modern day India. Swarup’s first novel, Slumdog Millionaire has been nominated for 10 Oscars and 12 BAFTAS, and has already won 4 Golden Globes.
Vivek (better known as Vicky) Rai the well known playboy son of the Indian Cabinet Minister- the Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh murders a young waitress Ruby Gill at a fashionable restaurant in New Delhi. The reason? Because she refuses to serve him a drink. At his trial he is acquitted and he decides to throw a party at his farmhouse. However he gets his comeuppance when he is murdered at the party. When the police search all the guests six of them are found to be carrying guns. Who are these six guests? As the reader plays detective we follow Arun Advani India’s best known investigative journalist as he tries to get to the bottom of the murder. The six potential suspects are a crooked official, an American tourist, a stone-age tribesman, a sexy Bollywood actress, a young mobile thief and an ambitious politician.
Each suspect has three chapters each under the headings Suspects, Motives and lastly, Evidence where everything is revealed. Each of the suspects has a reason to kill Raj! But which one actually did the deed?
This is a very interesting and well- written story. With sharply drawn characters and strong plotting with a sense of place that makes you feel as if you are walking along the streets of India. Six Suspects is in fact very reminiscent of Dorothy L Sayers’s Five Red Herrings. The way in which the story is told is very ingenious and it is interesting to go along for the ride as the culprit is slowly but surely revealed. It is also an perceptive look at the heart and spirit of contemporary India. The author’s finely conventional and fearless plotting will no doubt please those readers who enjoy classic mystery novels. Don’t expect gory and blood in Six Suspects because there is none. What you do have is an inventive whodunnit that is certainly worth more than a second look.
Six Suspects – A Review
By Nalini Priyadarshni
If your first novel is turned into a movie which takes the world by storm and ends up with 8 Oscars in its booty, coming up with another can be quite intimidating. But luckily by the time Slumdog Millionaire, based on Vikas Swarup’s first novel, Q& A sent the whole world in frenzy with the stupendous success, his second novel had already hit the bookstores. The only thing he now has to deal with is the sky rocketing expectations of the readers.
By the time one reaches at the bottom of the first page of his second novel, Six Suspects, one knows that Vikas Swarup does not need to lose his sleep worrying about the reaction of the readers. This novel is entirely different from his earlier work in its premise. It’s the story of six individuals coming from diverse back grounds who are present at a party where a murder takes place. Out of hundreds of people present there, they become the suspects as each one of them is in possession of a gun. They all have a perfectly plausible reason to murder Vicky Rai, a play boy who was hosting the party to celebrate his acquittal from a murder case that had caught fancy of the whole nation.
Out of these six suspects, a retired bureaucrat named Mohan Kumar is grappling with possession by a spirit which takes over his body at the most unexpected times while the second suspect is a celluloid goddess, Shabnam Saxena whose stardom has become her nemesis. Larry Page, an American who had flown to India to marry his internet girlfriend becomes the third suspect while the fourth suspect is none other than Vicky’s father, Home Minister of Uttar Pradash, Jagannath whose political career comes under doldrums thanks to Vicky’s brazen misdemeanors.
Munna Mobile is the next suspect who is a petty thief but is propelled into the world of rich and mighty after an inadvertent encounter with pretty lass in a discotheque, following an unexpected windfall. Last suspect is a tribal Eketi Onge belonging to a dying tribe overwhelmed by the intrusion of the so called civilized Indians responsible for their welfare. He leaves the shores of Andamans to bring back the sacred stone stolen from the tribe by a welfare officer and though initially fascinated by the glitter of modernism; he soon gets disillusioned and wants to return home.
Many readers and critics have compared this novel to Agatha Christie’s works which could be due to the eye for the detail that Vikas Swarup has. But this comparison is a gross injustice to the novel as it’s not just a whodunit, but a multifaceted, richly textured tale of India as seen through the eyes of assorted characters. This book has a far wider canvass than was ever attempted by Agatha Christie.
The book is a pure entertainer and even the most mundane and sorrowful moments in the lives of the characters have been enliven by the interesting observation and witty comments made by them. The first person narrative has its added advantage as the style of narrative is as varied as the characters themselves. Larry Page’s narrative generously sprinkled with the typical American slangs is a huge contrast to the telephonic conversations of Jagannath that are used to take the narrative forward. But the real fun is in watching the development of different story lines and then their mergence into one great dénouement.
Another factor that not only adds to the virtuosity of the narrative but also makes it sound hauntingly familiar to an average Indian is the inclusion of epoch making events of post modern Indian history in the narrative. Whether it is Union Carbide tragedy or Jessica Lal murder case or Sanjeev Nanda BMW hit and run case, they all are camouflaged and added to the plot and contribute towards making the narrative multi layered, and rich.
Six Suspects is a heady mixture of comedy, pathos, tragedy, humor rolled into a classic whodunit. It’s impossible to put this book down once you start reading this riveting page turner that provides first hand insight into contemporary India.
Fascinating, multi-voiced slice of Indian life across the castes [with political corruption at its centre]…a lovely, lovely book.
‘Slumdog’ author’s new novel out
Six Suspects, by Vikas Swarup | Reviewed by Erika Ayala
Vikas Swarup first garnered popularity because of the success of Q & A, his first novel which Slumdog Millionaire was based on. Now for a much-anticipated comeback, Six Suspects, his second novel is likely to meet, if not outdo the success of Q & A.
Vikas Swarup is an extraordinary novelist, very skilled in representing his characters and vividly delving into each one’s idiosyncrasies that contribute to the development of the plot. Six Suspects has a very gritty central plot and a development that won’t let you put it down.
The story revolves in a murder mystery with a complicated twist. A playboy son of a prominent public figure murdered a waitress because she didn’t take his order. But years later he was also found dead at a party he threw to celebrate his acquittal. There are six suspects for his murder, each of them just as likely to have killed their host. The interesting part about the six suspects is there occupations; a corrupt public servant; ambitious politician; a tribesman; an American tourist; a Bollywood sex symbol; and a cell phone thief. The investigation that follows the murder is most-riveting and showcases contemporary India.
Vikas Swarup does a wonderful job at this second novel, which deserves more attention than what it’s currently been getting. Six Suspects is not just about a murder mystery, but takes on a deeper criticism about India how murder operates, and murderers get served. Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup is definitely two thumbs up and worthy of a standing ovation for another job well done.
Erika Ayala works part time for a consumer review company.
PULP FRICTION: Who wouldn’t want to kill him?
Wednesday, June 10th, 2009
SIX SUSPECTS by Vikas Swarup (Black Swan, 2008, 575 pages)
YOU can’t read Malaysian books all the time, of course; you will go bonkers! Although our publishing output is more varied than our news – microwaving the Cold War yet again? Are we still wondering if theocrats can be liberal? – it’s good to take the occasional break.
Let us go to India! Just as The Book of Batik concerns us even though it was entirely about Indonesia, we also owe great debts to India. Our national language and royal customs, to pick just two obvious examples, would be very rudimentary indeed without motifs from the Motherland.
Luckily for us, Six Suspects is an absolute delight. The only Malaysian novel I know of that comes close to its madcap invention and satirical outrage is Brian Gomez’s Devil’s Place.
It’s much longer and more sprawling than Vikas Swarup’s famous debut Q & A (filmed as Slumdog Millionaire, which I still haven’t seen) but it’s yet another diverting Technicolor romp through a country whose colour and contradictions make our own national dramas seem terribly pallid in comparison.
Q & A had as its hero an orphan whose origins (unlike in other novels about orphans) we never discover. He also chooses a name that is part Muslim, part Hindu and part Christian, so he can literally be anything he wants. It was a tightly coiled story whose humor initially seems too cutesy, but which gripped and charmed way before its fairy-tale ending.
Six Suspects is a murder mystery but instead of following a detective around, we hang around with the five men and one woman of the title. The corpse is Vicky Rai, a young man who’s so corrupt and despicable that the question isn’t “Who killed him?” but “Who wouldn’t want to kill him?”
The cast of characters, with their various tangled motives, is delightfully improbable but we willingly surrender because Swarup knows how to keep us keen. There’s a boozy industrialist who seems to get possessed by the spirit of Gandhi; a self-absorbed but erudite Bollywood actress; a tribal man from one of the earliest civilisations on earth; a slow-witted American who was conned into coming to India; Rai’s father, the Home Minister who’s already bumped off many others; and (the character most similar to Q & A’s Ram Mohammad Thomas) a petty thief who discovers a suitcase with literally more money than he can count.
People are either on the make, on an impossible quest or hiding something, sometimes all at the same time. The template for the Western comic crime caper was perfected by Elmore Leonard, but the master’s laconic style is here, wedded to a deliberately overburdened and over-determined plot that teases and twists and has not one, but three false endings.
Swarup, a career diplomat who writes in English, must be very aware of the perceptions that outsiders have of India. He deliberately crams in as many of these recognisable elements as possible – political assassins, eunuchs, religious terrorists, caste discrimination, holy pilgrimages, bomb blasts, call-centre operators, mystics, and even Bhopal victims. What saves us from a case of the dreaded “Delhi belly” is his humane vision, confident mimicry and unflagging humor.
The solution to the murder is more than just clever; it’s cathartic in a way the genre rarely sees.
We in Malaysia might have a narrower palette to work with, but aside from Devil’s Place I am confident we will come up with our own entertainments. All it takes is for a talented writer to peruse the news everyday… and get very, very annoyed.
· Amir Muhammad is a writer, publisher and occasional movie-maker based in an amorphous region called Damansara. He has been to Delhi twice.
Murder they wrote
By SU AZIZ
If you are into murders or scandals, SU AZIZ recommends the five below, which come with discounts to boot!
SIX SUSPECTS by Vikas Swarup
558 pages / Black Swan
EVEN though Swarup admitted to this book not being an easy write, it is an easy and gripping read. His brand of cleverly interweaving stories held by one long thread, in his first hit Q & A, is echoed in this one. His neat style of embroidering with clever use of language is once again evident.
A crime story, this one opens with the notorious son of a high-profile Minister shot dead by a guest at his own glitzy party. Guests include six displaced characters each with a gun in their possession.
Believe me, you will be seduced to guess who is the murderer all throughout as the lives of the six are told in turn. While that unravels, Swarup once again paints a picture of life in India in the background.
Meanwhile, India’s wiliest investigative journalist decides to nail the murderer. Slowly, an amazing and touching tale unfolds. The ending is unpredictable.
My advice is, keep a day free for this read. Turn off the phone, brew your favourite cuppa. You should read this one in a day. The characters leap up and sweep you into their dramas.
Sarah Broadhurst’s view…
A great read, do try it. The playboy son of a cabinet minister is murdered at his own party. Six guests could, and indeed had reason to do it. We follow the background, in first persons, to all six, culminating in the unravelling of a complicated plot. The suspects range from Bollywood superstar to street urchin and each presents a fascinating slice of Indian life. I loved this book. Intelligent, full of political corruption, dirty dealing, innocent folk caught up in extraordinary circumstances, it is exciting, witty, satirical, pensive and the most enormous fun. The author’s first novel, Q & A, is filmed as Slumdog Millionaire. I’ve not seen the film but do highly recommend the book. It’s wonderful.
By Seema Chishti
Sunday, August 03, 2008
A murder mystery resonating with news of new India
Vikas swarup’s second novel Six Suspects is anything but pure fiction. It is compellingly written, with each twist and turn in the murder plot resonating news, events and the chaos of modern-day life in India.
Swarup, an (evidently) talented and rather quiet officer in the Indian Foreign Service, is said to have conceived of this book while posted in South Africa. It is an intense mix of occurrences in India, with the author not hesitating to use names, places and associations that are near-fact. There is a TV news diva who goes by the name of Barkha Das, there is Mukhtar Ansari, there is a “corrupt home minister” who operates in Uttar Pradesh and whose son Vicky Rai bears a close resemblance to the accused in the infamous Jessica Lall case. There is even a touch of Salman Khan in Vicky Rai who has shot two black bucks and whose speeding car runs over people. There are images from the film industry, its seamy side and secretaries who run the lives of cinestars and eventually decamp with all of their employers’ wealth.
The novel is the story of what happens between two parties. It begins with young bartender Ruby Gill being shot dead by a guest wanting another drink after the bar is closed, and ends with the murderer Vicky Rai being shot dead as he holds a party to celebrate his acquittal seven years later. The murder mystery remains a thriller down to the last page.
All in all, Six Suspects is topical, pacy and full of characters and incidents one can identify with.
Sunday, Aug 3
In search of a suspect
Quirky, clever, meticulous crafting, humorous, grounded in everyday India. Vikas Swarup’s first novel, Q&A, established his mastery over these aspects. And they have been reinforced by his second novel, Six Suspects. Drawing from the rough and tumble of Indian society, the satire leads up to the tale from the eyes of six suspects who were all found with weapons on the night Vicky was murdered in his farmhouse as he celebrated his acquittal for being tried in a case of running over six homeless vagrants in a BMW. Swarup leads us through many a low in public India’s contemporary life as politicians, bureaucrats, actors, wannabes, even tribals and tourists are caught up in a vortex of conceit and silence
A diplomat who writes
By: Saaz Agarwal
In the last hundred years and more, Indians have made impressive contributions to world literature. No Indian, however, has ever had the distinction of producing a worldwide best-selling thriller.
Till date, none of us have been able to generate the particular magic that arises from the intellectual ability to weave a gripping plot, the emotional sensitivity to create realistic and likeable characters, the skill to build up suspense, and the sophistication of flawless idiom, which results in the resounding “Give me more!” of an enormous population of readers round the globe.
Vikas Swarup’s first book of fiction, Q&A, the story of how the beguilingly named Ram Mohammad Thomas, a penniless waiter, became the biggest quiz show winner in history, came close. Five years later, his new novel Six Suspects is a murder mystery that gives the pace of a thriller to social commentary.
Critics of Q&A used the word “trite” – and they may well apply it to Six Suspects. However, it did to me something no book has done for 20 years and more – kept me up till 3 am.
Amid mind-glazing hot suspense, Six Suspects addresses ground-level issues of our culture including corruption and evil in politics, our preening world of glamour, the hypocrisy of high-profile godmen, the Indian government’s colonisation and subsequent ruin of indigenous tribes, the strivings of our newly emergent middle class, the role of our journalists in shaping our civilisation and even briefly features the “servant problem”, the Bhopal gas tragedy, and Guatanamo Bay. In all, making it a book I will hang on to for my grandchildren to read, as something that will sustain their interest while it gives them a vivid glimpse of the world in which I once lived.
Six Suspects – (* * * * 1/2)
The author of Slumdog Millionairehas another blockbuster of a story that begins with a murder, then delves into the lives and motives of the six suspects. The reader becomes intimately involved with each suspect while being treated to an eye-opening account of life in India.
Charming, atmospheric, and driven equally by character and plot, Six Suspects is bound to be popular with traditional mystery fans and readers of international crime fiction, as well as the legion of Slumdog devotees. Highly recommended
Book Review by Lauren
After reading and loving Swarup’s first novel Q&A (also known as Slumdog Millionaire), I was incredibly excited to check out his second tale, also set in India. The book, which does not come out in the states until October, takes us through the streets of India yet again, in an amazing, yet harrowing tale of death and, maybe, redemption.
Vicky Rai, the son of a high-profile Minister, was found shot dead in his farmhouse on March 23 during a very glamourous party. Although seemingly a sad event, the party was to celebrate Rai’s aquittal from a murder he committed. This was the 3rd time he got away with murder. Apparently, someone didn’t like that.
At the party, six suspects were found with guns. The six people included Mohan Kumar, a crooked businessman who might have been possessed by noneother than Ghandi; Larry Page, a Texan tricked into going to India to marry a mail order bride; Shabnam Saxena, a very famous Bollywood actress who tries to prove that she’s more than a pretty face; Eketi, a tribal trying to find his village’s sacred relic; Munna, an unemployed cell phone theif ; and Jagannath Rai, the Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh and, of all things, Vicky Rai’s father.
The lives of the six suspects are told in rotation throughout the novel, leading up to the murder. Each character has their own voice; where one character’s story is told through diary entries, another’s is told through phone calls. Swarup is amazing at building excitement and intrigue as each character’s tale unfolds. As you read each character’s story, you start questioning everything. “Could they be responsible for it?” “Is it worth it?” “Can we forgive them?”
Much like Q&A, everything comes together in the end, revealing that in one way or another, each life is wound together like a tapestry. And then end is definitely worth it. As each character’s story wraps up, you see in a very satsifying manner who did it, why, and how. Much like the game of Clue, the book keeps you guessing.
Swarup has an amazing talent when it comes to describing elements. He gives an accurate, if not terrifying at times, look at India – from the swanky houses in Delhi to the slums down the road. For those who’ve read Q&A, there are some quick comments mentioning the characters, which made me cheer. I love when authors do that. (If you’ve only seen the film, you won’t get the references, sadly).
I really enjoyed Six Suspects and am excited to see what Swarup brings us next. Once the book comes to America, I suggest checking it out if you’re interested in crime dramas, life in India, or just really intense books that keep you up wondering what might happen next.
By Amy Wigelsworth
July 15th, 2008
Forget IBS, PMT and RSI. In literary circles, the affliction to be avoided at all costs is the dreaded SNS, or Second Novel Syndrome. Fear of being labelled a flash in the pan one-hit wonder has paralysed many a Papermate. And the more glowing the accolades for a debut novel, the more pressure there is to deliver second time round. Not all writers can rise to the challenge, but Vikas Swarup, who wowed us in 2005 with Q & A, has produced a fighting fit second novel, Six Suspects, due for publication on 28th July. So what is his secret?
Six Suspects is a big novel in every sense of the word, and reminded me in scope of David Mitchell’s acclaimed Cloud Atlas. While Mitchell’s book tackles a huge time period, Vikas Swarup’s chosen remit is an ambitious slice of India’s famously vast and complex social spectrum, taking on some big themes (power, money and identity) along the way. Like an eagle-eyed continuity technician, he has managed to knit together a series of narratives, one for each of the eponymous six suspects, all of which make clever references backwards and forwards to the other suspects’ accounts. (Who says men can’t multi-task, by the way?)
It reads like a dream, but must have been painstaking to devise and construct. Painstaking but rewarding. And crucially it’s the latter which comes across as you read the book. The whole thing, even when touching on some sensitive and topical subjects, is suffused with humor. I found myself chuckling quite a few times and imagine that Vikas had just as much fun writing it. So maybe those displaying symptoms of SNS should take a leaf out of his book. SNS is basically a fear of the critic’s wrath and as such, perhaps simply enjoying your own writing (and so much so that it comes across in your work) is the best prize – and the best antidote.
Six Suspects Review ***** :
Fabulous new novel from the author of Q&A. Absolutely wonderful murder mystery – it should be made into a film.
Six Suspects: Vikas Swarup
Review by Kabita Dhara, Readings Carlton
Tuesday 29 July 2008
Vikas Swarup’s first novel, Q & A, took as its starting point a poor, illiterate waiter who wins a million dollars on a game show and the subsequent investigation by the producers of the game show into how someone like him could have known the answers to their questions. The novel proceeds to look at each of the questions he was asked and how his specific experiences equipped him to answer them.
In Swarup’s latest novel, he uses this same device of looking back from a primary event to uncover the way in which the said event comes to pass. The six suspects of the title are suspected of the shooting and murder of the rich, spoilt playboy Vicky Rai in the middle of an elite party. They are: a corrupt businessman, an American tourist, an indigenous tribesman, a Bollywood starlet, a petty thief and his own father, Jagannath Rai, the Home Minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh. All have motives and all have come to the party armed. A sprawling novel with a whodunnit at its core.
We have a solid chunk of classic Agatha Christie Murder On The Orient Express style whodunit here. And the fact that the “Poirot” in this book is an Indian investigative journalist gives it a full, hot satisfying flavor that you’ll enjoy with a lager on your sun lounger. A particularly obnoxious celebrity playboy has been bumped off by the bullet, and you won’t be surprised to learn there are six suspects in the frame. Pleasingly, Swarup gives us all we need to know about each of the varied possible killers in chapters of their own. Neat, clever, fair and loads and loads of fun.
Q & A is a dream of a book.
— WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Swarup has achieved a triumph with this thrilling, endearing work.
— NEW ZEALAND HERALD
An inspired idea…. A broad and sympathetic humanity underpins this book.
— THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH (UK)
An enthusiastic debut worth devouring.
— THE SUNDAY TRIBUNE
[A] Suprisingly assured debut….Q & A is fun, intelligent and leaves you wanting more. Here is one diplomat with a genuine gift for persuasion.
— THE TORONTO STAR
Beautiful and witty novel.
— KRO Radio, Dolce Vita
An invitation to pure entertainment that does the heart good.
Rich in genre studies, enough to draw a tear of compassion.
A debut that…invents a new architecture of the words.
A touching and funny novel as well as a hilarious story with a certain fairytale like impropability.
—NBD Biblion (Holland)
A picaresque novel in which a story is told in a non chronological way. In the heart-rending but eventually happy adventures of Ram Mohammed Thomas we see a critique of contemporary India. It is a joy to read, thrilling and entertaining where a few storylines are wrapped up at the end.
—Teletext / Boekbalie
Swarup gives us a peek in the contemporary Indian society…. But most of all; the author has written a beautifully crafted novel.
Q&A is fantastic, exciting, optimistic, dramatic at times and touching. Will appeal to all readers who like to be told a fascinating story.
—DBC (Danish library information service)
Q&A * * * * (Four Stars). An excellent feel-good story where qualities of kindness, friendship and resourcefulness win at the end.
—ALT for Damerne, September 9,2004 (one of the largest women’s magazines in Denmark)
Appealing first novel. A Star Choice
—The Bookseller 7 January, 2005
Between alternating narratives of tragedy and comedy, the book presents a rich panorama of contemporary India.
—Folha de S. Paulo, Brazil
A funny, thrilling, and, every now and then, sad journey through all ranks of society of India which makes pleasant reading.
This brilliant debut novel by Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup provides an intriguing glimpse into life in contemporary India……Both moving and funny, Q and A is a compelling novel that will keep your interest to the very last page.
A lively and quirky story from a master storyteller, Q&A is the story of a poor Indian boy, Ram who finds a unique means of survival – winning the TV quiz show Who Will Win A Billion? We are taken on an amazing journey through Ram’s life and contemporary India as the story unfolds.
The Indian author Vikas Swarup mixes realism, Bollywood and a critique of society and media into a successful novel about an extraordinarily lucky boy.
—Berlingske Tidende (Major Danish newspaper)
It is an original and interesting concept that Vikas Swarup brings to life in his first novel Q&A. There are fascinating, funny and cruel stories behind all of Ram’s quiz answers which make Swarup’s novel successful entertainment.
—IN, October 2004 (Monthly women’s magazine in Denmark)
The book’s racy style takes one through the murky side of the metropolis. Evil is matched by unbelievable wisdom.
—The Times of Oman, January 14, 2005
Thursday November 30, 2006
When Lady Luck needs help
Q & A
By Vikas Swarup – Reviewed by James Mitchell
One of the best books of 2006, even if first published the previous year. How come? Because it won this year’s Exclusive Books promotional Boeke “Prize”, and so really only hit our consciousness recently.
By all means buy it for the end-of-year break, but don’t expect it to last out a whole week on the beach like a Vikram Seth blockbuster. Q & A is a fast-paced read, presented in bite-sized chunks, with narrator Ram Mohammed Thomas almost a modern-day Sheherazade.
Arundhati Roy he ain’t either, but since Vikas Swarup clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously (Roy’s besetting fault), it would be churlish to complain.
What I’m trying to say is that this is enormous fun, a genuine pic¬aresque novel set in the teeming richness of today’s India. Its wide-ranging scope is foreshadowed by the hero’s name, which encom¬passes a god, a prophet and a saint from three major religions.
Young Thomas – he’s all of 18 – is “just a dumb waiter in some god¬forsaken restaurant”. At least, that’s how the producer of Who Will Win a Billion (W3B for short) intro¬duces him to the American licensor of the TV quiz show concept.
It’s unthinkable that such an unlikely lad should be a winner, let alone on the first show that’s taped for the series … before it’s managed to generate any substantial advertising income. Which is why Thomas is now in the local jail with Inspector Godbole, and will soon be hanging by his wrists with chilly powder up his backside, and enough mains power to set him jiving from the ropes, in between being thrust head-first into a bucket of water. Until he signs a confession, preferably one that explains how he cheated his way to success.
Only trouble is, he didn’t cheat. But before he signs (he knows he will, after a few more slaps), a most unlikely rescuer appears. “A young woman……..of average height and slim build… … nice teeth and lovely arched eyebrows…In the middle of her forehead she wears a large blue bindi. Her dress consists of a white salvar kameez, a blue dupatta and leather sandals. Her long black hair is loose.”
She announces herself as “Mr. Ram Mohammad Thomas’ lawyer”. Even Thomas – sans enough money to hire a taxi – knows this is unlikely but he is happy to be led off to her house in Bandra, cleaned and fed.
Like all good attorneys, Smita Shah wants the whole story. Particularly how young Thomas managed to answer twelve out of twelve quiz questions. Her momentary flash of disbelief has Thomas erupting : “Like Godbole, you believe I am good for only serving chicken fry and whisky in a restaurant. That I am meant to live life like a dog and die like an insect.” Smita doesn’t think that, of course, but we only find out the reason for her unlikely appearance at the end.
Meanwhile we listen to replays of the TV show questions while Thomas describes the unlikely incidents in his short but crowded life, which provided him with the answers.
For an orphaned street brat who clawed his way out of the gutters, even being a waiter is an achievement but a waiter bright enough to win a billion rupees…that’s a quantum leap.
His adventures along the way including fighting off an amorous Anglican priest; shooting a dacoit (robber) on the Western Express; outsmarting a dinkum Aussie diplomat/spy with a helluva twang and a cricket mad son; escaping from crooks who “farm” crippled children as beggars; plus time spent massaging the ego (and a little more) of an ageing film star.
His encounters are as rich as those of Kipling’s Kim, if not as overtly philosophical and if at the end he fails to find an equivalent to the Lama’s River of Life, he does at least learn that Lady Luck has to be helped along a little.
This is a novel for the new millennium, yet also intensely traditional. One can only hope that author Vikas Swarup – currently New Delhi’s Deputy High Commissioner to Pretoria – keeps on writing. If he comes up with concepts as delightfully original as that on which Q&A is founded, he will go as far in literature as he is clearly headed in diplomacy.
Review by Soumya Battacharya
March 12-13, 2005
Vikas Swarup’s debut novel has one of the most arresting openings that you are likely to find in fiction this year: “I have been arrested. For winning a quiz show.”
With this deadpan revelation, Swarup grabs the reader by the lapels and dunks him, head first, into a plot rich in excitement, coincidence, drama, schmaltz and intrigue….Read (this book) because it is a celebration of the happenstance and serendipity of life. Read it because it is a very clever story told very cleverly and at a relentless pace.
Swarup drags the reader into the heart of the action with his first two sentences (there is not a single dull moment in this novel), and carries him along in this dizzying roller coaster ride through Thomas’ life.
Q and A is just the book for a long journey. But if you aren’t going away somewhere, don’t start it if you intend to get any sleep at night.
Hooray! Horray! Hooray!
Suhel Seth in The Financial Express January 23, 2005
What is unique is the craft of storytelling that Vikas brings to his first book. Equally very telling is the journey of life that Ram then takes us along on.
From carefully crafted vignettes of Asia’s largest slum, Dharavi, which is where Ram serves fried chicken and whisky along with his waiter friends, to his tribulations in a typical Mumbai slum until a saviour lawyer (semblance of NGO-activists), Vikas brings to life portraits rather than caricatures which is why there is no typical image that we can immediately associate with. And yet every image is exactly as real as the author intends it to be. In essence the character of the protagonist is an everyday person with an atypical take on life only because of the quiz show he wins.
The catapulting of victory as a defining moment in his life is overtaken by the cynicism of a world which creates little identity boxes and keeps people in them: seldom allowing them to break the mould and become one of us. The poignancy of the plot is mirrored in the travails of Ram, without being lost in the convolutions.
The pleasing attributes of this book are underscored by the simplicity of language, which conveys rather complicated emotions. Then there’s the deft touch of numbering chapters with prize money scales (Chapter 1 is 1,000, Chapter 2 is 2,000) so that the reader too feels like he winning a Kaun Banega Crorepati clone.
If you are looking for India’s answer to Hercules Poirot with the attendant characters etched in candour and colour, then Q&A more than delivers.
The layering of the plot is something remarkable, because in his quest to answer questions, there are several more that life throws up for Ram. The book is a treatise on the life he leads and thus the kaleidoscope of questions that confront him.
In a way, it eptimoises all that life is for the common man in India: for whom even an honest victory is uncommon: almost met with ridicule and disbelief. A system that never provides honest answers to some probing questions. Meanwhile:
Q: What should you do with this book?
A: Read it and treasure it.
Who will read a rollicking book?
Indrajit Hazra in Hindustan Times January 2, 2005
When a book lands in your lap that is stashed with moments about life in a Mumbai chawl, homosexuality, incest, the battle of the have-nots and the haves, orphan-hood, more homosexuality and juvenile homes, your eyes do tend to roll skywards. But one would do well to fix one’s eyes on the pages of this eminently laconic book, which gathers all the clichés that flock the totem-pole called Indian writing in English and turns them delightfully on a slow spit.
Swarup’s protagonist is a mix of an urbanised version of Swami from R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi stories and Italo Calvino’s naive to the point of exasperation Marcovaldo. The language is deceptively simple, and the narrative joins dots to present a picture that is as funny as it is dark.
Behind the gauze of playfulness and ironic description, the reader can’t help but wonder whether Swarup is also trying to net a fish that’s swimming at a deeper level of the water. For at its core, Thomas’s story investigates the distinction made between knowledge and luck.
Q And A is that rare novel that chugs along on the parallel tracks of being a rollicking read as well as being a polished, varnished, finished work of impressive craftsmanship. So here’s the question: Why do I recommend reading Q And A? Is it because a) the book has already been snapped up for movie rights? b) Swarup writes about ‘real India’ in a fresh ‘n’ funny way? c) it taxes the mind just enough to leave spaces for the real ice-breakers? d) it is all of the above? No prizes for guessing the right answer.
Linda Herrick in the New Zealand Herald March 18, 2005
Question by question, chapter by chapter, Ram Mohammed Thomas — there’s a story behind his Hindu-Muslim-English name — takes…us, on a tour of his life and in the process, we learn about Indian movie stars, paedophilia, life in the chawls (slums), alcoholism and drug abuse, the mutilation of children so they can beg, gangsters, poetry, cricket, the histories of the Taj Mahal and the 1971 Indian-Pakistan conflict, autism and prostitution. It is also threaded with the saving graces of friendship, loyalty and love, providing a rare, seemingly effortless brew of humor, drama, romance and social realism.
And it’s great fun. Ram has been an extremely enterprising boy during his short life, taking work wherever he can find it…By the time Ram comes to the final question — he, and his lucky one-rupee coin, are flying, and the epilogue, six months after his triumph, reveals some most satisfactory uses for the money, including some nice juicy revenge on truly villainous types.
Swarup…has achieved a triumph with this thrilling, endearing work which gets into the heart and soul of modern India.
“I have been arrested. For winning a quiz show.” So begins the story of 18-year-old Ram Mohammad Thomas, a story that Swarup, an Indian diplomat, endows with all the emotional richness and moral ambiguities of a Mumbai street scene. The book’s title refers to the Indian equivalent of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, won by an unschooled orphan whose life in India’s slums has miraculously provided him with answers to the show’s 12 questions. Jailed on trumped-up cheating charges, Ram spins out his tale like a modern Scheherazade, explaining how he came to know each answer despite (or because of) the deprivations he has suffered. In the end, good is rewarded, evil punished, and the compelling cacophony comes together with joyous precision.
Worth The Money
Gayatri Rajwade in the Sunday Tribune February 6, 2005
It’s an enthusiastic debut worth devouring. The author seems to have taken inspiration from the fantastical, unreal plots of Hindi films that captivate and enthral millions.
Drawing from potboilers of the 1970s and commingling it with the small screen’s Kaun Banega Crorepati, Vikas Swarup weaves a delightful yarn. With an easy style reminiscent of the New York Times bestseller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon (incidentally this book was also published by Doubleday), Q and A is sweet, sorrowful and funny.
It is a chimerical fable of a young boy, Ram Mohammad Thomas, who is arrested for winning a quiz show that promises the winner a billion rupees as prize money.
How can a young orphaned, uneducated waiter at a bar possibly know answers to the varied questions so as to win a contest of such magnitude? This is what the police ask him when they take him away for questioning in the middle of the night. With each chapter, the answers are unfolded. As the stakes in the show get higher, Ram Mohammad Thomas’s dappled life gets unravelled. The answer lies, perhaps, in the protagonist’s belief: “I begin to think of myself as a mongrel peeping through a barbed window into an exotic world, which does not belong to me.”
Swarup offers different shades of life. He talks of poverty and the will to survive by relishing each experience of existence. “I had only Rs 50,000 but every rupee had a technicolour dream written on it and they stretched out on a cinemascope screen in my brain to become 50 million.”
Written as a first person account, the book combines a series of coincidences that flow from one unbelievable quest to another, some tumultuous, some exhilarating. And laced with masala from Hindi movies, there’s the fate-determining coin that reminds one of Sholay, and there are glimpses of the eternally suffering mother, tragedy queens, dacoits and war.
With these hackneyed images of movies are whimsical tales etching fragments of the real world of homeless children, incestuous fathers and hopeless love. The endearing tales of Ram Mohammad learning how “to do barbies and make fondue” and the way he shows off the new Kasio watch to the girl in the blue salwar kameez — all make for a heart-warming debut fiction.
Swarup intersperses his pages with small eager stories of loving and significant sacrifices.
The book may not be sending any deep messages but it stays with the reader for its remarkable and magical story of a young boy who believes that “a waking dream is always more fleeting than a sleeping one.”
To write anymore would kill the curiosity of the reader. So go ahead and read this enchanting tale of the good over the baneful.
Prosenjit Datta in Businessworld
How he got his billion
28 February, 2005
Q & A
By Vikas Swarup
Ram Mohammad Thomas has answered 12 questions correctly on Who Will Win A Billion? He insists he has not cheated, but just got lucky. But how did a penniless waiter living in a Bombay slum get lucky? Did he guess the answers? No, says Ram. He knew the answers. Then where did luck come in? “Wasn’t I lucky,” he asks, “that they asked me only the questions to which I knew the answers?” He knew the answers because he had encountered them in his short but action-packed life. And it is his highly improbable but absolutely plausible life that makes up Q & A by Vikas Swarup (Doubleday).
Swarup’s debut novel is impressive. At one level, there is nothing in his protagonist’s history that can be called truly fantastic. Each event – from winning the game show to getting employed by an Australian diplomat who fancies himself as a spymaster – could have happened to someone. What is interesting is the way these plausible incidents are stitched together to create a fantastic tale.
Swarup has good command over the language. The writing is tight and crisp. But best of all, he knows how to begin his story and, even more important, to end it on just the right note.
Julian Novitz on www.stuff.co.nz
Through the questions and answers of the quiz show, the history of Ram’s life starts to take shape.
Jumping backward and forward in time, we learn about his early life as an orphan in Paharganj, his friendships, his loves and losses, his entanglements with fading movie stars, gangsters and foreign spies.
Ram’s stories touch on some broader issues in contemporary Indian life: political corruption, extremes of wealth and poverty, domestic abuse, and tensions between Hindu and Muslim. But Vikas Swarup is never heavy-handed when dealing with these themes, and Ram’s life, though fraught with misfortune, is not unrelentingly bleak.
Like the Bollywood films his best friend, Salim, is obsessed with, Ram’s tales have a way of cutting across genres and different styles of story-telling. They combine tragedy and comedy, intrigue, mystery and sometimes farce.
Ram himself is a likable character and an engaging narrator. He is witty, observant, sceptical and pragmatic, but never cynical, and readers are likely to find themselves easily drawn into his adventures.
Q and A is Indian diplomat Swarup’s first novel and already looks set to be a huge international success. Accessible and completely engrossing, it is probably the best read of the year so far.
Q&A review by Suresh Kohli February 2005
Q and A is an unconventional novel. Unconventional in the sense that though it has a prologue, which partially spells out a pattern for the subsequent narrative flow, it does not resort to a standard storytelling style. And certainly not a standardized narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Even if one takes the opening and closing as the beginning and the end, it has no middle, so to say. Instead it has 12 gripping stories, tales or short narratives of varied lengths. And they tell in a racy, lyrical manner the tragic-comic experiences of a have-not who goes on to become a billionaire by sheer grit and determination even before he is out of his teens. (This) lyrical book breaks new ground in storytelling.
Vijjay Nair in the Deccan Herald February 27, 2005
Q and A…is a bloody good book. No two ways about it. It unfolds much in the same way as a Bollywood potboiler. But it does so unselfconsciously. Vikas Swarup is not embarrassed by any of the reference points that have inspired him to write the book.
India comes alive in this book. The India of the real Indians, who patronise these films, drown themselves in the adulation of film stars and believe naively that it is possible to win millions in a television game show!
This India is not the India of dissenting writers who write soppy tales about middle class housewives pining for lovers and find it difficult to make it to the twenty thousand list but nonetheless it is the India of a throbbing billion that we encounter on the streets. The India that indulges itself in the escapist fare doled out by the Mumbai film industry and contributes to the TRPs of the soaps and gameshows! Ram Mohammad Thomas, the protagonist of Swarup’s novel may not be the face of the only India that we know about. But he is most certainly recognisable.
The characters we encounter in the novel, be it the guileless Salim, the dutiful Lajwanti, or Nita, the whore pining for redemption, are all stereotypical and yet entirely believable. It is easy to feel for them. It is also easy to wish for a ride into sunset with them.
Swarup delivers all that at the end of a roller coaster ride – part quiz show, part morality tale.
Sunil Sethi in The Outlook January 31, 2005
If the success of novels is to be measured by their galloping pace and sheer readability, you can’t put this one down. I gulped it down with great relish in a few hours.
Given the ingenious simplicity of the plot’s framework – at once a comment on how TV contests pander to audiences in the age of avarice – Swarup has got most things right. He is also pointing at obvious ethical dilemmas in a country where divisions of caste class and, above all, the wide abyss between rich and poor, nags at any notion of equality, education and social justice.
Even if read as pure entertainment, Q and A introduces you to a cast of memorable, madcap characters, some better drawn than others: the geeky, spy-mad Australian diplomat in Delhi who loses his wife and job, or the autistic boy Shankar, Lajwanti the theiving maid and other residents of the princess’ outhouse in her mansion in Agra. Where characters were clichéd, rather like a Dickensian dramatis personae recast in contemporary India, there were enough slick twists to redeem their implausibility.
Bernard Trink in The Bangkok Post
It isn’t rare for a diplomat to have something published, in-depth analysis of an international crisis or his memoirs most likely. Unheard of is his penning a novel while still in the service. Yet this is what Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup, presently posted in the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi, has done. Q & A stands for Questions and Answers, which has an original plot. (The novel) is informative and breezy.
Mini Kapoor in The Indian Express December 26, 2004
A life story being revealed through the framework of a public performance is rather apt. With the democratisation of culture, a life story’s currency is often correlated to its capacity for spectacle. And television — with its reality programmes, talk shows and quiz programmes — is a medium that’s increasingly refracting ordinary lives and everyday encounters into rivetting drama.
Swarup has caught this interface. In Q and A Ram’s life must pass through multiple filters, it must be told and retold in different ways. From the questions posed to him — and the record provided on the DVD — to his backgrounders for Smita, to the final tying up of all the loose ends, Ram is perhaps being put to a higher test. At the age of 18, his crowded life must be straightened out to disclose a compact honesty.
For Swarup the quiz show is also a template to tell the story of modern India. It is a depiction with a moral edge. Ram is witness to so much abuse that early enough Swarup seems to be in danger of trading in stereotypes. But in the tidiness of the ending, it turns into a tale of redemption, a plea for the salience of hope, no matter how great the odds.
Evolutionists and physicists have been analysing a computer game called Life to investigate the secrets of the universe. In Swarup’s telling, life itself becomes a game, shards of memory becoming pieces of a larger jigsaw.
Charmy Harikrishnnan In India Today January 10, 2005
There is a midnight knock in Dharavi and the police drag an 18-year old into the waiting jeep. The question: how did the illiterate waiter ram Mohammad Thomas win a billion rupees in a television quiz show. Vikas Swarup’s debut novel Q and A is the slum boy’s confessional in a night – an extraordinary narrative in which the familiar Kaun Banega Crorepati questions require existential explanations.
From the Sphinx which waylaid the Thebean travellers with questions to Amitabh Bachchan’s baritone queries which had a nation hooked on TV, turning a quiz to pop culture’s ultimate extravaganza as well as the consumerist Indian’s answer to the epics, the Q and A has a history of its own.
Swarup’s Q and A is a picaresque through the underbelly of urban India where evil hides in the most ordinary places….Despite an overdose of darkness, of the evil’s endless trysts with a boy, the novel is for most parts stripped of overt sentimentality. It is the terseness of narrative that gives the book a contemporaneity.
From Dharavi to the Taj Mahal, it is an Indian panorama, bleak and grand by turns. As street children Salim and Thomas sit on the front row of Regal talkies, consuming the other worldly fare – Salim dreaming of becoming a star; Thomas fantasising about the heroine. It is a world that they finally break into and as the twin strands of real and reel, of a biography and a TV quiz merge, Q and A ends in – what else – a perfect Sholay moment.
It is the tale of new millennium’s just-turned adults, the heirs to midnight’s overgrown children.
Shinie Antony in The Week January 23, 2005
No doubt a polished debut, Q and A is also bang on the publisher’s pulse. The linguistic style is simple, peppy and very Life of Pi. It is not often that we get such fast paced action, which, like a breathless express train, stops only at special stations, punch lines or when the quizmaster says, “You just won a 100 million rupees!”
Jon Stock in The Week February 27, 2005
It was only half way through the novel, Q&A, that I wondered whether its author, Vikas Swarup, was a full-time writer. The book had me riveted with its warm and witty dissection of serendipity, and I was puzzled why I hadn’t read more of Swarup’s work in the past. Was he a young, first-time novelist? The book had a maturity, which suggested otherwise.
Perhaps he only wrote in Hindi and his previous books hadn’t been translated, but there was an international feel to his writing, a firsthand knowledge of other cultures. And then I turned to the page at the beginning of my proof copy (the book has been released in India, but not yet in Britain) and all was revealed. “Vikas Swarup is an Indian diplomat who has served in Turkey, the United States, Ethiopia and Great Britain. He is presently posted in the ministry of external affairs in New Delhi.”
I should have guessed. Another author pretending to be a diplomat!
Aditi De in The Hindu Business Line February 4, 2005
As Ram Mohammad Thomas narrates his life story in 13 controlled, quick paced episodes that link into each quiz query, the reader realises that the implausible can turn plausible in life’s great game of chance. Ram’s is a seesaw tale underlined by hope, of a survivor in the underbelly of society.
Politiken (Major Danish newspaper) August 28, 2004
It is quite an adventure which the Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup serves up in his first novel Q&A: The Boy who had all the Answers. Throughout the novel runs a thread of solid indignation at injustice of any kind. Abuse of power, violence and the arrogance of bureaucrats are not allowed to pass unchallenged. But Vikas Swarup still manages to ensure a happy ending for all those characters the reader has come to know during the novel. And then hope that that the reader will be tempted to copy Ram’s goodness. In that way, Q&A belongs to the dream factory products, but it is one of its kind, a highly successful specimen.
Sandra McLean in The Courier Mail 27 March 2005
Swarup’s novel takes us into the harsh reality of Indian life, but never forgets to entertain. In doing so, it has all the right ingredients for that growing posse of Western readers intrigued by all things Indian….. While Q and A is absolutely embedded in India with its chawls, or slums, Bollywood obsession, starving street kids, alcoholism and glistening monuments to love, it is also a story of everyman…Ram leads an adventurous life for a young man, a former street kid and one-time tour guide who grows up as the story is told, from being an orphan looked after by a kindly priest to the unlikely winner of a quiz show. But it is a lively tale, warmly told and richly coloured with the startling minutia of Indian life
Hindi Review in Dainik Jagran (North-Eastern India’s largest circulated Hindi daily), Varanasi edition 15 January 2005
Name: Ram Mohammad Thomas
Educational qualifications: Illiterate
Residence: Dharavi, Asia biggest slum
Achievement: Winner of one billion rupees on a quiz show
The charge: Cheating and fraud.
Isn’t this an interesting bio-data! And now there is even a book on this called Q&A. This is not only the story of a poor orphan boy but an utterly original and gripping novel which evokes contemporary India in all its colorful, lively and sometimes sordid manifestations.
Kelly Vos, Daily Dispatch, South Africa
A Richly textured story
Q and A … it’s an intriguing title. And it’s an intriguing novel, too.
The plot hangs on the shoulders of the beautifully named Ram Mahommad Thomas, a penniless waiter and an orphan, who wins the largest Quiz show in India, and is then imprisoned for his pains. Why? Well, how could such a lowly, uneducated urchin possibly do such a thing by fair means?
Our hero is befriended by a young lawyer called Smita Shah, who appears out of nowhere to defend him.
The course of the book follows their interview, where he recounts his life story and how various incidents fitted him with the knowledge to answer certain questions.
It’s a satisfying, Dickensian tale of advances and reversals, good people and bad, humorous interlude and starkly tragic episode, as our Indian Pip survives to adulthood and Who Will Win a Billion?
As the night progresses and his tale unfolds, we and Ram uncover the answers to the quiz show … and maybe some to life as well.
Vikas Swarup has given us a tale peopled with a richly textured crew we can love and laugh at or weep with. He has a gift for characterisation and a lovely turn of phrase.
Read this book. You deserve it.
Your starter for one billion
by Rachael King
Q & A
By Vikas Swarup
How can a penniless, barely literate waiter from Mumbai possibly win a billion rupees on Who Will Win a Billion (or W3B)? According to the organisers, he must have cheated, so Ram Mohammad Thomas is arrested, imprisoned and tortured until he admits his crime. But before he gives in, rescue comes from Smita, a beautiful female lawyer, who offers to represent him if he will only explain to her how he won.
And so begins the meat of Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup’s debut novel Q&A, when Smita and Ram sit down to watch a videotape of the show. Before each question, Ram tells Smita a story that shows how he came to know the answer – a result of his adventurous life and his sponge-like ability to absorb information, starting at his abandonment by his mother and ending with the reason he came to be on the show.
It’s a good device, essentially linking a series of short stories featuring Ram. Through it we experience child abuse, friendship, first love and first sexual experience, movie star worship, murder, autism, leprosy, organised pick-pocketing and the history of the Taj Mahal. Running through the tales is Ram’s yearning for his mother, always depicted in his fantasies as a wind-swept woman in a white sari, forced to abandon her child through no fault of her own.
The book is deceptively light-hearted and chatty, but at its core is social commentary: “The rich people, those who live in their marble and granite four-bedroom flats, they enjoy. The slum people, who live in squalid, tattered huts, they suffer. And we, who reside in the overcrowded chawls, we simply live.” Ram’s work takes him into the homes of the other half, from where he is able to observe them as the freaks they are. His name – Hindu, Muslim and Christian – draws together all the religious facets of India, giving him a pass into different worlds, cultures and socio-economic groups.
A list of the characters reads like a who’s who of stereotypes: the faded Bolly-wood beauty, the whore with a heart of gold, the paedophile Catholic priest, the closeted gay movie-star, the crooked cop; but Swarup overcomes the clichés with his easy, readable style and highly likeable protagonist, making this a very enjoyable novel if not a challenging one.
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Novel isn’t typical portrayal of orphan’s fate
By Jayna Desai/ Associated Press
Bollywood movies often portray poor orphan boys as innocent creatures determined to make something of themselves, striving to find their long-lost families, kill all the world’s villains and live happily ever after with beautiful wives.
And although there are highs and lows throughout such movies, there are usually happy endings.
In Vikas Swarup’s debut novel “Q & A,” Ram Mohammad Thomas is yet another poor orphan who experiences life’s ups and downs. But the difference between Thomas’ story and a good old-fashioned Bollywood movie is that for Thomas, a happy ending isn’t a sure thing.
And that’s just what compels the reader to want to finish this book in one sitting.
“Q & A” begins when Thomas is arrested for winning the big prize on the TV quiz show “Who Will Win a Billion?” Being arrested for winning is hardly typical, but Thomas isn’t a typical contestant — he is a poor waiter from the slums of Mumbai with no formal education.
His arrest, however, doesn’t seem peculiar to his neighbors, who are in the same boat as he is financially.
“After all, what business did a penniless waiter have participating in a brain quiz? The brain is not an organ we are authorized to use. We are supposed to use only our hands and legs.”
Thomas is dragged off to jail, where he is beaten nearly to death by a police inspector who suspects that he cheated on the show. It is only when Smita Shah, Thomas’ lawyer, barges into the room to save him that the torture stops and Shah is allowed to consult privately with her client.
Here, the reader begins to understand how Thomas was able to answer the show’s questions. Swarup enables the reader to experience Thomas’ extraordinary life through his descriptive tales of sorrow, humor and, often, fear.
Each of the book’s chapters depicts a chapter of Thomas’ young life. The reader sees how living in the streets of India has given Thomas knowledge similar to what students learn formally in school.
Thomas tells how, as a baby, he is rescued from a dustbin. He becomes the house servant for a wealthy Australian family and for a Bollywood has-been, a tour guide at the Taj Mahal and a waiter in Mumbai. He is unaware that people he meets along the way are providing answers he will one day use to win on the show.
At times, however, Shah doubts his client’s stories. Thomas tells her that like the inspector who beat him, “You wonder what I was doing on that quiz show. … you believe I am good only for serving chicken fry and whisky in a restaurant. That I am meant to live life like a dog and die like an insect. Don’t you?”
Shah assures Thomas that she has faith in him.
With realistic dialogue and vivid descriptions of people living below Mumbai’s poverty line, Swarup gets inside his characters and brings them to life.
The only question remaining is whether Thomas overcomes his hardships and has a happy Bollywood-style life or dies “like an insect.”
Q & A
By Vikas Swarup
April 19, 2005
Ram Mohammad Thomas is an orphan Indian boy who has just won 1 billion rupees after answering 12 questions correctly on a TV show.
But how can a mere orphan waiter, who has never read a newspaper or been to school, actually achieve this?
He must have been cheating. Furthermore, the show’s producers didn’t bank on a winner so early on in the show, and now they don’t have the funds to pay him out.
So they have him arrested and tortured into confessing that he cheated.
But at last Ram realises that there is someone out there who cares about him.
A female lawyer is adamant that she will help him after he tells her his story.
So, in a night of watching the show for clues on how to tackle the case, Ram tells his story of innocence, betrayal, sorrow, pain, love, death …. the list goes on.
As he explains how he knew the answer to each question on the show, Ram reveals the story of his short but tragic life – a life I found almost impossible to believe such a young child could endure.
Ram is no hero. he is just a child trying to survive in an adult world of violence and corruption.
Drawing on a mass of street smarts and trivia he has picked up, Ram has the answers.
A wonderful read about surviving the shantytowns of India – the world we don’t see in a Bollywood movie.
Monday , July 11, 2005
Q & A
By Vikas Swarup
When Ram Mohammad Thomas, an orphaned, uneducated waiter from Mumbai, wins a billion rupees on a quiz show, he finds himself thrown in jail. (Unable to pay out the prize, the program’s producers bribed local authorities to declare Ram a cheater.) Enter attractive lawyer Smita Shah, to get Ram out of prison and listen to him explain, via flashbacks, how he knew the answers to all the show’s questions. Indian diplomat Swarup’s fanciful debut is based on a sound premise: you learn a lot about the world by living in it (Ram has survived abandonment, child abuse, murder). And just as the quiz show format is meant to distill his life story (each question prompts a separate flashback), Ram’s life seems intended to distill the predicament of India’s underclass in general. Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” may have been a model: Ram’s brash yet innocent voice recalls that of Saleem Sinai, Rushdie’s narrator, and the sheer number of Ram’s near-death adventures represents the life of the underprivileged in India, just as Saleem wore a map of India, quite literally, on his face.
Q & A
By Vikas Swarup
Written by Howard Dratch
Published: October 21, 2006
Vikas Swarup has broken that rule that says to write about what you know. Swarup, the publisher tells us, “is an Indian diplomat who has served in Turkey, the United States, Ethiopia, and Great Britain… [and] currently works in the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi.” Q&A is a first novel and is a winner. It is winning since it is being translated into 18 languages and is upcoming as a film (Hollywood with an “H” or a “B”, I wonder). It won my award — I read it, finished it, and enjoyed it and the discussions with my wife who did the same. Bingo!
Our hero is not of the world of the Indian diplomatic corps. He is the character we learn about and may love or not love. He made me so mad in one chapter that I dropped the book for a week because I knew he would disappoint me. The little bugger had earned some money and was robbed because he acted like a stupid and very young boy. Finally I remembered he was a very young boy — so very much younger than we can believe because he is a boy of the streets, poor and orphaned, living on his wits and staying just ahead of starvation and worse. Not only that but, since I was once one of them — boys, that is — they are inherently stupid on certain occasions such as showing off to other boys and pretty girls. So he did and paid for it. And I, realizing I was punishing myself needlessly, returned to the pleasure of the story of Ram Mohammed Thomas.
So this is our hero. He is named for a Christian, Hindu and Muslim – he is the ecumenical world that could bring peace. There is a story there. You will enjoy it but I am not going to tell it to you. Read it for yourself. Swarup writes stories like a 1001 nights. Each question from the TV quiz show on which he is a contestant is a story, a long story, a good story, a story of India and Indian culture, of boys and boy-culture, of mankind and human culture.
It did make me think that there is still hope for the world and maybe an Indian diplomat (who better?) has found it. It is all a matter of names and naming, of the luck of knowing not what to ask or what to answer but of living decently and learning the puzzle of creation which is the way it all fits together. Perhaps our real world of the 21st century could be saved by some re-naming. Pope Benedict, had he been called Khomeni Rabbi Benedict Robertson, might have fared more easily this year.
Ram Mohammed Thomas is a little urchin. Whenever I think of him living the difficult life of an 18-year-old and with the wisdom (sometimes) of an ancient, Swarup reminds us of a 13-year-old who is first encountered in the police station, arrested and being tortured. He is just a street boy accused by people with money, TV producers with a billion rupees (about 22.222 million dollars) they would give away to the person who answered their questions. Ram did. They do not believe he answers honestly and plan to find out how he did it.
They do not tell the police they cannot pay all the billion rupees, having bet that no one would win – at least for long enough that they could avoid that pesky little problem of actually accumulating the prize money. They are also not averse to cheating a little themselves to keep our friend — after a while Ram is our friend — from winning and becoming a rich man with power in a growing, changing, developing powerhouse of an economy where money talks and talking money creates the power to do both good and evil.
A lawyer mysteriously appears to support the penniless prisoner and forces him out of police clutches. She starts her recorder going and has DVDs of the programs where he answered the questions everyone believes he should not have been able to answer. For each question worth 1000 rupees, 2000, 5000, there are stories that take us into the clutches of what I can only imagine is a reality – a number of realities of Indian life culminating toward the end in stories of hydrophobia, of death and sadness and of the beauty of the Taj Mahal. We meet faded movie stars of Bollywood history living in a Sunset Strip of Indian decadence of spies and bandits on trains and men who beat their wives and chase their daughters.
Ram Mohammed Thomas has not only many names but many stories and they are the stories not of evil Muslims who enslave women but of men who turn their impotence on the defenseless. These are the stories of life in the streets and a life in imaginations of stardom and mothers-who-care and the priest who loves you as he loves mankind and the priest who preys on boys, the thieves and cheats, brothers who sell their sisters, and a whore with a heart of gold.
In the end… Wait! This is a first novel that grabs a grown boy by the imagination and may not be always perfect but doesn’t let go until the story is mostly told. It is not perfect because perfection is too much for this world to offer. The dying movie queen does not meet her maker always with her make-up on and the train robber is not always stopped in his very own tracks.
There are stories here that need to be read. They tell of India and of India I know so little. Like all the Indian books and stories I see, they are filled with foods and smells, spices and tastes that I will never know but still manage to taste and smell as I read. There is “A Soldier’s Tale” that must be read because war is war from either side and valor is either bravery or cowardice depending on the way it is seen. That is the enchantment of a novel that is enchanting — there are so many ways to see so many things and then the knots are tied and untied and the cords are connected and the connections found even where we never thought there were any.
It is a grand start for a novelist and a fine insight into the heart of a diplomat. Do diplomats have hearts? I never really knew and now I do.
Howard writes on science, books, movies and news for Blogcritics and on his own blogs from the border of North and Central America.
The Christian Science Monitor
August 30, 2005
Q & A
By Vikas Swarup
He should have guessed wrong
A teenage Indian waiter aces a game-show quiz – and then wishes he hadn’t.
By Yvonne Zipp
If ever a game-show contestant should have chosen what was behind Door No. 2, it’s Ram Mohammed Thomas. The 18-year-old waiter became the first contestant to correctly answer all 12 questions on “Who Will Win a Billion?” (Ah, inflation.)
His reward? He’s promptly arrested for cheating and tortured by the police, who are determined to figure out how an unschooled orphan from the slums of Dharavi mastered a quiz show.
You see, the TV producers don’t actually have a billion rupees (roughly $23 million), but they do have enough to bribe the local cops to brutalize an impoverished teenager.
“There are those who will say that I brought this upon myself by dabbling in that quiz show,” Ram says. “After all, what business did a penniless waiter have to be participating in a brain quiz? The brain is not an organ we are authorized to use.”
Clearly, none of these killjoys would be Americans, who turn trivia buffs like Ken Jennings – and far less appealing reality-show contestants – into quasi-celebrities. And there’s a can-do optimism driving the hero of Q&A: A Novel, Vikas Swarup’s enjoyable debut, that translates well for US audiences, even if the book itself is ultimately uneven.
Fortunately for both Ram and squeamish readers, a female defense attorney barges into the interrogation and gets him released. Although, really, the faint of heart might as well put the novel down right now and go switch on the soothing tones of Alex Trebek, because they won’t be able to handle Ram’s version of “Jeopardy.” (Last bad game-show pun, I promise.)
The rest of the novel consists of Ram’s conversation with the defense attorney, explaining how his life up until then had taught him the answers to each question.
For example, from the kind priest who gave Ram his Hindu/Muslim/Christian name and taught him English, he learned the initials written above the cross. The aging Bollywood “tragedy queen” for whom he worked as a servant appears in another question. A hit man who’s an avid cricket fan gives him yet another answer. And his stint as a tour guide at the Taj Mahal also comes in handy.
(The chapters are named for the amount of money he won for each correct answer.)
But Ram’s itinerant lifestyle offers more than the chance to pick up all kinds of trivia. It allows Swarup to explore a wide range of hardships facing India’s lower classes: from the boy who dies of rabies for lack of money to pay for treatment, to the girl whose brother forced her into prostitution at age 12. Then of course, there’s the wealthy “benefactor” of orphan boys who makes Fagin look like foster father of the year. You don’t want me to go into more detail – Dickensian doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Interestingly, rather than widespread social change on a governmental level, Swarup, an Indian diplomat, seems to espouse individual decency as a cure for these ills. Ram, even when living without running water or indoor plumbing, always has a few rupees to spare for his neighbors.
But there’s no denying the novel’s clever conceit, or that Swarup has created a hero readers will happily cheer for. As rags to riches tales go, Horatio Alger would have approved.
Yvonne Zipp is a freelance writer in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Q & A
By Vikas Swarup
A leading light in India’s foreign affairs bureaucracy, Vikas Swarup penned his first novel in just two months and for a welcome change has given us an Indian novel of a digestible size, rather than the doorstops we have come to expect from Messrs Seth, Mistry et al.
In a roller-coaster ride through his unusual life, Ram Mohammad Thomas – an orphan given Hindu, Muslim and Christian names because of his unknown parents – tells how a poor café waiter from Bombay wins a fortune on a television quiz show, Who Will Win a Billion? (‘W3B’).
When we meet him, Ram is under arrest following a complaint lodged by the show’s producers who insist the humble teenager could never have answered the 11 lead-up questions, let alone bagged the main prize by naming the key in which Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 29, Opus 106 – also known as the ‘Hammerklavier Sonata’ – is played.
Hoping that Ram had indeed cheated, and thus would have to forfeit his winnings, they engage the services of the police, even the top cop himself, in an attempt to gain a favourable outcome.
‘It’s the timing, Commissioner. Shows like W3B cannot be dictated by chance, by a roll of the dice. They have to follow a script. And according to our script, a winner was not due for at least eight months, by which time we would have recouped most of our investment through ad revenues.’
After brutalising Ram the police turn him over to a human rights lawyer, Smita Shah, who takes him to her flat, feeds him and then begins probing for an explanation, helped by a DVD of the ‘W3B’ episode in which Ram made his fortune.
For 1000 rupees, name the blockbusting film in which famous actor Armaan Ali starred with Priya Kapoor? For 200,000, who invented the revolver? What letters were inscribed on Jesus’s cross? What does persona non grata mean?
Incredibly yet plausibly, Ram knows the answers because of his life experiences, the last coming through employment at the home of the Australian Military Attache that concluded with the arrest and expulsion of his boss, Colonel Taylor, on espionage charges.
Remarking on the affair, the Australian High Commissioner remarks, ‘I must say this is the first time in my long career that any of my officers has been PNG’d.’
‘Wasn’t I lucky that they only asked those questions to which I knew the answers?’ Ram tells Smita.
Insightful about India and frequently hilarious, this is a remarkable debut novel.
Q & A
By Vikas Swarup
Review Date: MAY 01, 2005
Price (hardback): $24.00
A cheery picaresque in which an orphaned, ill-educated boy abandoned to hardscrabble existence in the teeming slums of Dharavi, India, wins a billion rupees on a nationally televised quiz show—and then is forced to defend himself against charges of cheating.
Thomas Mohammad Ram will need the gods of all three religions that engendered his name to help him survive the trials that befall him. Deserted at birth, Ram spends a few formative years at a Catholic orphanage, where a kindly priest looks after him. When the priest is killed by an evil he refused to acknowledge, Ram must navigate the consequences of other temporary benefactors’ greed and of his own desire to keep from an early grave. His sojourns include working as a houseboy for Bollywood’s most famous “Queen of Tragedy”; being held captive by an enterprising sadist who intentionally maims children so that they will become more prosperous beggars; running errands for a contract killer with a passion for cricket, and putting in a stint as a “freelance” tour guide at the Taj Majal. But Ram’s most dangerous encounter is with the police, who arrest and beat him after the producers of Who Will Win a Billion? accuse Ram of cheating. After all, they ask, how can a near illiterate have correctly answered all 12 questions, which touched on matters from arcane Indian history to Western classical music? It’s a question Ram’s female defense attorney—who mysteriously appears to demand a fair trial—asks, too. Together, they review a videotape of the show. Each quiz question prompts Ram to narrate in flashback a different chapter in his brief but adventurous life that ultimately—the reader can be absolutely sure—reveals the correct answer.
Indian diplomat and first-novelist Swarup uses a heavy-handed formula to frame a high-concept retelling of good vanquishing evil in the age of reality TV. It’s too pat to be profound, but clever and fun all the same.
Q & A
When Ram Mohammed Thomas wins a billion, his life does a double take. Not because he’s won the sweepstakes but because the cops come to his hovel in the busiest slum in Asia, Dharavi in Mumbai, and handcuff him. Predictably, at the police station he is tortured. But just when things seem to be getting out of hand a young lady proclaiming herself as his lawyer rushes in and takes him home. Ram’s story begins here. The lawyer switches on her tape recorder and tells Ram that she can save him. In return all she wants is the truth. The truth as to how he managed to answer all the 13 questions posed to him on the quiz show — Who Will Win a Billion? Bemused but trusting, Ram reveals how he managed to win the quiz show. His is no ordinary tale as his lawyer discovers. Ram is not a literary genius. Because he is nothing but an uneducated, orphaned waiter in Mumbai, the stakes are against him. Even as the promoters of the game show plot to oust him and not pay the promised money, Ram launches on the story of his life.
Rescued from a dustbin where he is dumped after his birth, Ram’s life follows a singular path. One of survival in the face of odds. From the moment he is picked up by Father Timothy to the time he meets a crazy Australian mole, Ram’s life is one of existing by instinct, which never fails him. Predictably as he tells his story against the backdrop of each question put to him on the show, there unfolds a saga of human greed, abuse, homosexuality, friendship and compassion. Q and A touches a chord somewhere even as it lets you believe in magic.
New novels take us to distant times and places
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
By Susan Larson
The armchair travel of reading has everything to recommend it — no airport hassles, no stress of arrival and departure, and the food’s always just what you want it to be. Here are four new novels to transport you through space and time, provocative and memorable in the way that good trips always are.
‘Q & A,’ by Vikas Swarup (Scribner, $24), is a remarkable tour de force of a debut. Its narrator, Ram Mohammad Thomas, has just won a billion rupees on a popular television quiz show, “Who Will Win a Billion?,” but the thugs who finance the show hope to avoid paying him. He is a penniless, 18-year-old waiter; how could he possibly have known the answers to such difficult questions? He is sitting in a Mumbai jail cell, waiting for the police to torture him, when a female lawyer arrives out of nowhere to save the day.
Like a Scheherezade with a deadline, Ram Mohammad tells his story to the lawyer as they view the DVD of the quiz show, question by question, as he explains how he knew the answer to each one. What a life he has led — he was left as a baby at a church in Delhi, raised by a priest, adopted by a dangerous man whose “children” all come to harm, established an enduring friendship with movie nut Salim Ilyasi, worked for a fading Bollywood actress and an Australian colonel who is “The Man Who Knows” and as a tour guide at the Taj Mahal — all leading up to a toss of the coin that will determine his luck on a television show.
“Q & A” is rich in atmosphere and setting, giving us the texture of Indian life in Ram Mohammad’s picaresque adventures. Even city streets come to life: “There are many hazards to walking in an absent-minded manner on the roads of Mumbai. You can inadvertently slip on a banana peel and go skidding. You can find that without warning your foot has sunk into a pile of soft dog s—. You can be rudely jolted by a wayward cow coming from behind and butting into your backside. Or a long-lost friend you had been avoiding meeting can emerge miraculously from the chaotic traffic and suddenly hug you.”
Swarup, an Indian diplomat, crafts this funny and moving tale with wit and heart. Readers will root for Ram Mohammad’s survival against impossible odds, will admire his acts of bravery and intelligence. And true to the laws of karma, what goes around really does come around. Reading “Q & A” is like catching Ram Mohammad’s lucky coin; you’ll want to carry it around with you and share its wealth with friends.
February 21, 2005
Q & A
By Vikas Swarup
Delhi’s latest literary sensation, Swarup is a diplomat who earned a whopping six-figure advance for his first novel. Titled “Q&A,” the book recounts the picaresque adventures of Ram Mohammad Thomas, an ignorant orphan who makes off with the jackpot on a quiz show called “Who Wants to Win a Billion?” To explain how he knew the answers, Thomas must tell the story of his life, starting with the Roman Catholic priest who took him in and named him for each of India’s major religions. Too cute, perhaps, but “Q&A”—sold in more than 15 countries, with a movie in the works—certainly has its charms.
¬— Jason Overdorf
February 5, 2006
Q & A
By Vikas Swarup
Reviewed by Tom Boncza – Tomaszewski
A novel’s imperfections sometimes make it even better than if they had been removed. It’s the difference between the kind of glossy, overworked (over-workshopped) fiction and novels with rough edges by writers such as Haruki Murakami and David Mitchell. To this list can now be added Vikas Swarup. Q &A’s absurdly contrived ending sits comfortably in the wake of the picaresque adventures described in the previous pages.
Based loosely in truth, the novel tells how penniless 18-year- old waiter Ram Mohammad Thomas wins one billion rupees by correctly answering 12 questions on a TV quiz show. Unfortunately for Ram, the show’s makers didn’t anticipate one of their first contestants, let alone a poor and uneducated teenager, ever winning the prize. The police are bribed to extract a confession that he cheated – a task they approach with brutal zeal and live wires. Just as Ram is about to sign, however, a woman called Smita Shah rescues him, stating that she is his lawyer. To convince her of his honesty Ram tells a series of stories from his life, each of which left him with the knowledge to answer a question. One, for example, involves a man obsessed with cricket (in a darker twist he’s also hooked on Mumbai Crime Watch) who loses a vast sum of money on abet when a leading Indian batsman is run out on 99 – and it’s that batsman who features in the quiz show question.
A hugely successful mixture of satire and intrigue’ and the ending, Smita Shah’s reason for helping Ram and the teenager’s motivation for entering the quiz show are unashamed Bollywood.
Copyright 2006 Independent Newspapers UK Limited
The Man Who Knew Too Much
Reviewed by Ron Charles
Sunday, July 31, 2005; Page BW04
Q & A
By Vikas Swarup
Scribner. 318 pp. $24
More than a billion people live on less than a dollar a day. News like that could ruin your whole latte, but most of us are adept at ignoring such conditions or pretending they’re inevitable. Who wants to read a novel about that when you’ve got four episodes of “Desperate Housewives” on TiVo?
It takes more than a spoonful of sugar to get such medicine down, and Vikas Swarup provides a strange mixture of sweet and sour in this erratically comic novel. Q & A is about a poor waiter from Dharavi, India — “not a place for the squeamish” — who’s won a billion rupees on a game show. (That’s about $23 million, which is a lot, even if you’re not living all year on the cost of an iPod.)
Swarup, an Indian diplomat who works in the Ministry of External Affairs, brings eyewitness experience to his debut novel. Sewage-filled streets, vermin-infested hovels, hordes of dying beggars — they’re all here, but what interests the author most is the absurdity of such poverty, where a million people are “packed in a two-hundred-hectare triangle of swampy urban wasteland, where [they] live like animals and die like insects.” Swarup’s billionaire hero is named Ram Mohammad Thomas, “a nonsense name” that reflects his chaotic, ecumenical childhood. When we meet him, he’s sitting “cross-legged in a ten-by-six-foot cell.” He’s been arrested, dragged here in the middle of the night and charged with defrauding the producers of “Who Will Win a Billion?” The host, a demonic version of Bob Barker, explains that they don’t really have a billion rupees; the show was fixed, with winners and losers carefully scheduled to increase viewership and advertising revenues in 35 countries. Ram’s miraculous performance threatens to drive them into bankruptcy unless they can prove he cheated.
“There are those who will say that I brought this upon myself,” Ram observes, “by dabbling in that quiz show. They will wag a finger at me and remind me of what the elders in Dharavi say about never crossing the dividing line that separates the rich from the poor. After all, what business did a penniless waiter have to be participating in a brain quiz? The brain is not an organ we are authorized to use.”
The theme here couldn’t be any more obvious if Vanna White spelled it out for us, but what Q & A lacks in subtlety it makes up for in charm and melodrama. While Ram’s interrogators are torturing him, a mysterious young defense attorney bursts into the cell and demands a private interview with her client. Almost the entire novel consists of their conversation. All night Ram and his lawyer study a recording of the game show while Ram describes the life experiences that just so happened to prepare him for each of the 12 questions.
From the drunken astronomer who beat his sweetheart, he learned which is the smallest planet in the solar system: Pluto. From a man married to a voodoo priestess, he learned the capital of Papua New Guinea: Port Moresby. From an old war vet in an air-raid shelter, he learned the highest award for gallantry in the Indian armed forces: Param Vir Chakra. The result of this survey of his knowledge is a harrowing picaresque novel about an orphan boy fighting to stay alive and make a living in “Asia’s biggest slum . . . amid the modern skyscrapers and neon-lit shopping complexes.”
Through murders, robberies, rapes and close scrapes, Ram speaks in a voice that turns from wide-eyed innocence to moral outrage. He’s learning just how right and how wrong the landlord was who once told him: “We Indians have this sublime ability to see the pain and misery around us and yet remain unaffected by it. So . . . close your eyes, close your ears, close your mouth, and you will be happy like me.”
That’s an ironic indication of the novel’s surprisingly conservative spirit. There are enough horrors here to drain a million liberals’ bleeding hearts, but Ram never suggests the solution will come from a different political arrangement, more equitable distribution of wealth or social revolution. The real question is whether individuals will choose to treat one another more humanely, more selflessly. You can guess his final answer. •
Ron Charles is a senior editor of Book World.
[A] Suprisingly assured debut….Q & A is fun, intelligent and leaves you wanting more. Here is one diplomat with a genuine gift for persuasion.
Swagat, the official magazine of Indian Airlines and Alliance Air February 2005 issue.
As GV Desani did with All About H. Hatter, Vikram Seth with The Golden Gate and Arundhati Roy with The God of Small Things, Vikas Swarup seems to have taken the literary world by the proverbial storm with Q and A. By writing his very first novel this career diplomat seems to have set new parameters in defining fiction.
Q & A
By Vikas Swarup
This brilliant debut novel by Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup provides an intriguing glimpse into life in contemporary India. The hero of Q and A is a teenage waiter called Ram Mohammad Thomas. As his name suggests, Ram has an eclectic background and, even though he has had little formal education, he has a formidable general knowledge. He knows what it is to live among the poorest of the poor and he has also lived among the privileged members of society, rubbing shoulders with film stars and diplomats.
At the beginning of the novel Ram has just won a billion rupees on the popular television quiz show Who Will Win a Billion? However instead of celebrating his new-found wealth, Ram is facing torture in a prison cell. The show’s producers cannot afford to pay out the prize money without going bankrupt and they want the police to prove that Ram has cheated. Just as Ram is about to sign a false confession, fearing for his life, he is saved by a young human rights lawyer, Smita Shah, who is determined to prove his innocence.
Together they view a recording of the quiz show and Ram explains to Smita how he was able to answer all thirteen questions. In doing so, he reveals to Smita his extraordinary life story and the experiences that have shaped him as an individual. Both moving and funny, Q and A is a compelling novel that will keep your interest to the very last page.
Vikas Swarup has served as a diplomat in Turkey, the US, Ethiopia and the UK. He is currently Director in-charge of India’s relations with Pakistan. His novel was written in just over two months and rights have been sold to over twelve countries worldwide.
Starting Points for Discussion:
- To what extent is Ram merely “Fortune’s fool”? Does he have any control over the events in his life?
- Which of Ram’s many experiences did you find the most comic? The most tragic?
- Compare Ram with some of Dickens’ most-loved characters e.g. David Copperfield and Pip. What does this novel have in common with the novels of Charles Dickens?
- Which of the many minor characters did you find the most interesting?
- What does this novel reveal about life in contemporary India? You might like to compare and contrast Q and A with Hari Kunzra’s novel The Impressionist which is set at the beginning of the 20th century but shares many of the same themes.
By Anu Warrier
Slumdog Millionaire by Vikas Swarup
Originally published as Q & A, Vikas Swarup’s debut novel is the story of Ram Mohammed Thomas, a 19-year-old orphan from the slums of Bombay. When the novel opens, he is a) a billionaire, having won the billion-rupee prize in a game show, and, b) in jail, the producers having charged him with fraud. He is in jail because the producers of the show have no money to pay him, a fact you are made aware of on page seven.
As a lawyer comes to the young orphan’s assistance, Swarup unfolds the almost Dickensian tale in first person, told over the course of a single night in 12 chapters, each a short story in its own right dealing out interesting vignettes of the protagonist’s fractured life and the many people who helped shape his world view. As a plot device, it works. Swarup paints different settings for his protagonist and uses humor to underline his insightful commentary on the social fabric of contemporary India.
The chapters are not in chronological order, though. The first-person narrative weaves back and forth, and as each chapter unfolds, Thomas explains just how the crucial events each provide a key to the show’s twelve questions.
This is not a book for the squeamish. There is enough foul language, sex, murder, battle and sudden death to keep a dozen novels going. What works in its defense is that Slumdog Millionaire is a fast-paced read, and right from the protagonist’s three names is absolutely cinematic in scope. There is also an impish reference to a well-known plot device from a 1970′s blockbuster. Hindi film aficionados will recognize the scene.
A diplomat by profession, Vikas Swarup shows a tremendous grasp of the underbelly of contemporary Indian life and takes sardonic, sometimes savage digs at the abuses that are rampant in 21st-century India. While you can dismiss the frequency with which these abuses seem to happen in the short life of his protagonist as plot device, they are very real and mirror a reality that most of us would prefer to ignore.
Swarup weaves all 12 somewhat implausible strands into one believable though intricate whole. Though coincidences run riot, his writing skills are good enough to make you suspend disbelief. This is truly a fantastic yarn, with well-constructed characters who make you empathize with them.
Finally, though, the story is about the age-old fight between good and evil, and how spirit triumphs over adversity. It has all the ingredients of a wonderful potboiler – bad guys and white knights, diplomats and film stars, poverty and exploitation, pain and redemption and everything else that you can throw into the mix. Stirred up and served by a wonderfully articulate author in a language so simple that it reminds you of simplicity’s charm, you are willing to forgive the slight melodrama and the various plot contrivances. It is to Swarup’s credit that he ties up all the loose ends in a convincing manner, leaving us with a novel that is all that a novel should be, but so often is not: a tale well-told.
Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Anu Warrier, 2009
Slumdog Millionaire by Vikas Swarup
Review by Chandani Karnik
June 21, 2010
Originally titled Q & A when it was released in 2005, this is a Boeke prize winning and Commonwealth Writer’s Prize nominated book by Indian novelist and diplomat Vikas Swarup. But its real claim to fame is the fact that Slumdog Millionaire by Danny Boyle – the film which swept the Academy Awards in 2008 – is loosely based on this book. In fact, after the huge success of Slumdog Millionaire worldwide, this book was reissued under the same name.
Q & A follows the story of an underprivileged boy called Ram Mohammad Thomas, who just lives life trying to survive. Accused of cheating on a quiz show, he is arrested and the law tries to prove him guilty. As he shows that he did really know the answers to all the questions, the story unfolds. For every question, the protagonist tells a story which explains how he, a Dharavi resident who has never received formal education, came to know the answers to the questions. He relates the story of his life, and how at every stage he had to struggle to survive. The novel is fast paced, Swarup does not let you pause for breath. It’s the story of a waiter in a shady bar and how he learnt about life and the world in spite of the fact that he never went to school.
The story takes place in different parts of India: Delhi, Agra, Mumbai and more. The story has it all – drama, comedy, tragedy and romance in equal doses. Each part is distinct and it touches the reader in its own individual way. The incidents related in the book are shocking yet believable though sometimes they get downright disturbing. Thomas also has a sidekick and best friend called Salim. As they face life together as orphaned children, their experiences portray Real India. The India, which not many of us have seen or witnessed and most of us just ignore.
Interestingly the story is not told in chronological order, but follows the order of the questions. Different parts of Thomas’s life unfold as he progresses towards winning a billion rupees. At the very end of the thirteen questions, comes a nail biting climax which keeps you hooked. The whole story comes together in the very end, piece by piece, question by question, in a way which leaves you completely satisfied.
Swarup has explored many issues which form a part of contemporary India. Religion, for one. The protagonist is an orphan and has three of India’s most prominent religions in his name. Swarup doesn’t say God is one, he shows that God is one. He also shows that corruption which breeds all through Indian society sucks the life out of a poor man’s body. Even as children, due to the fact that they are surrounded by such harsh realities of life in the lower strata of society, Thomas and Salim lack innocence in their outlook. Swarup also covers our greatest interest and influence as Indians: Bollywood. Through Salim’s celluloid dreams and worshipping of actors, we get an insight into the lives of the people who actually live the celluloid life.
All in all, Swarup’s Q & A is a must read: for its insight into the lives of slum dwellers in India, for the thrilling pace and incidents, the subtle philosophy and well structured storytelling. It’s a piece of serious fiction and is guaranteed to open your eyes.
Manish Chand Indo-Asian News Service January 13, 2005
Although the theme appears to be deceptively simple, this modern day parable smashes a whole gamut of stereotypes about genius, celebrity and showbiz.
Q & A by Vikas Swarup
Q & A has all the ingredients of a blockbuster Bollywood (Hindi) Masala movie: romance, tragedy, violence and a happy ending.
on Apr 1, 2009
Q & A is an Indian rag to riches story. It is the story of an orphan whose life experiences makes him a winner on India’s Quiz TV show “Who will win a Billion?”. At the beginning of the novel Ram Mohamed Thomas the protagonist is arrested late in the night for interrogation. The studio management wants the police to investigate and prove that he cheated so that they can cheat him of his prize money.
As he is being tortured a young woman rushes in and claims to be his lawyer. She makes police stop the torture and asks him how he knew the answers. This leads to a narration of his unique life experiences from Mumbai to Delhi, Agra and back to Mumbai. Ram’s life experiences leave the reader eagerly turning the pages of the novel.
Ram Mohammed Thomas
Ram is a feisty young man who has lived in an orphanage, a church compound, the Mumbai slums, and in a diplomat’s house. He is a smooth talking con-artist tourist guide as well as a hard-working man. Exploited by a gangster he is also the protector of the weak.
Abandoned as a baby he grows up in the orphanage until adopted by an Indian Christian couple. The couple split and he is left in the care of the parish priest. Other religious leaders are not comfortable with an orphan growing up in a church and identified as a Christian. They decide to give him a Hindu, a Muslim and a Christian name. As Ram says he was lucky that the Sikh leader was not present at that meeting where he was given a name.
In addition to Ram, the other characters in the novel also have interesting life experiences. Salim his friend from the orphanage, a dabbawalla who aspires to be an actor; Nita his girlfriend, a prostitute who falls in love; Gudiya an helpless girl who claims Ram as her brother and is lost to him when he runs away from Mumbai and later enters his life again as the lawyer who defends him; Neelima the aging heroine; Lajwanti the perfect maid who cannot resist cleaning up even when stealing are all memorable characters.
The protagonist’s name reminds one of Bollywood movies like Amar Akbar Antony and themes of friendship between characters belonging to different religions in various movies. His experience as a tourist guide is reminiscent of an older blockbuster movie – The Guide based on a novel by a famous Indian novelist R.K.Narayan. Salim’s hero worship of Arman Ali reveals the ever-present popularity of Bollywood movies which this novel resembles. The novelist weaves 12 experiences or Bollywood like stories into one novel with efficient artistry. The fast pace of the novel leaves the reader breathless and enchanted.
The Movie — Slumdog Millionaire
It seems appropriate that the novel which resembles a fast pace movie was turned into a movie. The Oscar award winning movie, Slumdog Millionaire, takes the basic plot of the novel and focuses on three characters (Ram, Salim and Nita) and enlarges the romance angle. Ram Mohammed Thomas becomes Jamal in the movie. The personalities of the three characters are also different. From questions and answers about an orphan’s life experiences the movie centers on rags to riches story of a slum boy whose mother is killed in Hindu-Muslim riots.
Book reviews: Q & A by Vikas Swarup
by Bhavya Dabas
Created on: October 19, 2009
Q & A is a gripping narrative of the life of an orphan, filled with stories of fighting for survival. To the extreme. It was a story of struggle. The struggle to live. The struggle that an orphan has to go through for his dignity. And the indignity that he has to come to terms with. I like stories where one has to connect the dots in order to fully grasp the plot. Although I don’t like ones with overly complicated plots where one has to watch with constant rapt attention in order to figure out whatever is going on. This one was just right.
The story takes you through the protagonist’s life and all its little details, as he explains how he knew all the answers to the questions asked on a television quiz show. He answers all twelve questions correctly to win a billion rupees, but he is accused of cheating. The producers don’t have the money to pay him, and he is taken away by the police, as they question him how a slum dwelling orphan boy knew all those answers, which some of the biggest brains in the country don’t know. A young woman, claiming to be his lawyer, takes him off the police department’s hands, after reprimanding them, and sits down with him to listen to his stories which explain how he knew the answers.
He takes her on a journey through his eighteen years of existence, during which he met a series of interesting characters, including a priest who brought him up during the early years of his life, a foreign diplomat who employed him for domestic help, a famous actress of years gone by, an astronomer’s daughter, and an heiress of a royal dynasty. He also meets and falls in love with a prostitute, but her brother doesn’t want her to get married, because it would cut off the cash flow that she brought in. He wants compensation for all that cash.
The author’s portrayal of the whole thing, albeit a little extreme and dotted with a few stereotypical characters, is written in a way that makes you feel for the characters, want to know what happens to them next, relate to them. It makes you want to keep turning the pages and not put it down at any point in the story. I’d rate this one at about nine on ten, and strongly recommend that you read it if you haven’t read it already.
How could Ram Mohammed Thomas, an orphan from Asia’s biggest, most filthy slum, possibly win the jackpot on India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Ram has never gone to school. He’s never read a newspaper. There’s no way a waiter from Jimmy’s Bar could win the one billion rupees! Or is there?
Ram startles even himself by answering all 12 of the show’s challenging questions correctly. But instead of taking home the biggest jackpot in history, he’s framed for cheating by the show’s unscrupulous producers. Conditioned to believe that his very existence is illegal, Ram ponders whether he has overstepped his position by using his brain, when society has authorized him to use only his hands and legs.
Q and A is told in 12 chapters over a single night, as Ram pleads his case by revealing how a lifetime of experience led to his miraculous win. In each chapter, Ram relates the slice of his extraordinary life story that gave him the wisdom—or the luck—to answer each of the show’s 12 questions correctly.
Paying homage to Life of Pi’s fable-like narrative, but zapped with a witty twenty first-century sensibility, Q and A is a darkly comic and charming novel that delves beneath its compelling premise to examine life’s profound dilemmas—good vs. evil, rich vs. poor and perception vs. reality. Brilliantly conceived and executed, Q and A paints an enthralling picture of humanity in all its guises.
22 February, 2008
Please forget for a while about the hullabaloo on the Danny Boyle’s movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ in recent times since the movie like the protagonist of the novel keep sweeping countless awards in the international scene; just sit and read the inspiration for the movie, the book of Vikas Swarup with the original title ‘Q&A’.
The novel ‘Q&A’ is a racy thriller in a way; it depicts the life of an orphan boy Ram Mohammed Thomas and his travails and tribulations leading him from the despicable slums of Dharavi to the winner of millions of fortune in a television game show.
The ingenuity of the author to weave a novel with thirteen independent and desolate questions and their answers on assorted subjects, which were answered by the boy from the slums of Dharavi is amazing. The protagonist character has been intelligently etched by the author and the strange way the questions come to him for which had answers through memorable events of his unenviable personal life.
The narration of Vikas cruises through in an exceptionally lucid language mounting situations in each episode and the answers for the queries he faces in the quiz lie in their centres. The novel’s strong point is its brazenness in the depiction of the lives of the characters of varying shades; an innocent orphan, an apparently masculine hero who is gay, a good but weak Christian father, an yesteryear actress who wants to defy ageing, a phony army man, a ruthless trader who pushes the orphaned children into begging, a callous business man, a frustrated astronomer, a gambling professional killer bring the strong and light moments to the novel.
The romantic episode appears only towards the end. As usual, she is golden hearted but impish Nita in a brothel. An accidental liaison ends up in serious love. The completely non glamorous central character and his dreamy eyed friend Salim run through the pages in flesh and blood.
It is really amusing to comprehend how the answers for the questions in W3M (Who Wants to be a Millionaire?) are hidden in the odd and unfair game of the hero’s life that spans from the chawls of Ghatkopar, slums of Dharavi, posh suburbs of Mumabi to diplomatic enclave of New Delhi.
The novel emphasizes the uncertainty of life especially in the most chaotic milieu of Indian society and the importance of Madame Luck to smile.
In the Prologue, Ram tells his lawyer when confronted about his knowing all answers for the questions. He says it is luck. Smita asks Ram:
‘You knew the answers?’
‘Yes. To all questions’
‘Then where does luck come into the picture?’
‘Well wasn’t I lucky that they only asked those questions to which I knew the answers?’
The movie also reiterates that; Luck which is the very important element in a man’s life.
This book is fantastic. Unique, cleverly structured, engaging and heartfelt, it offers a view into another world through personal stories told with great sensitivity. The book begins with Ram Mohammad Thomas sitting in an Indian prison following his win on a new high profile TV quiz show. The producers are convinced he cheated and are prepared to go to any lengths to avoid paying out his win. As his lawyer reviews the footage of the show to build the case, Ram tells heart wrenching stories from his life and the mystery unfolds. This is a real pleasure to read and reminiscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.
Reviewed by Mary-Jayne House in The Booklover Newsletter, March 2005
Q & A
By Vikas Swarup
Ram Mohammed Thomas is just a poor waiter in Mumbai when he appears on the tv show Who Will Win a Billion, but somehow, despite having never gone to school, he answers all twelve questions correctly. The show’s producers decide – largely because they can’t afford to actually pay him – that he must have cheated, and have him thrown in jail. A lawyer appears, and Ram recounts, question by question, the events in his life that led to him knowing the right answers – but will anyone believe him?
Why you should read this book:
Finally, the idea of reality television is put to good use in Swarup’s charming novel. Each chapter covers an incident in Ram’s life – sometimes a sweet story, sometimes heartbreaking, occasionally inspiring, and always gripping. Because of his odd name (explained in one of the chapters), Ram Mohammed Thomas, with a simple choice of which name to offer, easily blends in with people of different religions and social status, allowing him to float through a wide variety of unusual experiences. Swarup introduces the reader to new and interesting characters and situations that flow smoothly from chapter to chapter despite the bouncing around in time and place. Featuring such an appealing main character in intriguing situations, Q&A comes highly recommended.
First City February 2005
The one thing that Q and A, Vikas Swarup’s debut novel brings forth most candidly and graphically is that every nameless face may have a surprising story to tell. That an ‘ordinary’ person may have unknowingly gone through the most extraordinary experiences in his life. That ‘general knowledge’ is not always about erudition and education; that life’s circumstances, when experienced with sharp perception, can teach more than books ever can. …The two contradictory stands – one with the page-turner sort of pace, and the other, of the realistic novel that requires a dense, empathetic description – stand out in the book.
Q & A
By Vikas Swarup
Question: How can a penniless waiter with no education suddenly win the all-time biggest quiz show, Who Will Win a Billion?
Answer: “Well, wasn’t I lucky that they asked only those questions to which I knew the answers?” When Ram Mohammad Thomas is arrested for cheating on the show, he must convince his lawyer that he really knew all the answers. Chapter by chapter and question by question, Ram relates the pieces of his life that gave him the answers he needed to win. The astounding journey twists and turns through his adventures as an orphan, a servant, and a Taj Mahal tour guide, the perfect fusion of suspense and romance, comedy and drama.
Q & A
By Vikas Swarup
By Yasmeen Murshed
Now that KBC Dwitiya has once again become a thrice weekly visitor to our homes my thoughts turned to that much hyped book Q&A by the Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup published by Doubleday last year. It was much hyped because of the rather large advance of twelve thousand pounds given by the publisher for a first novel and has already been, I understand, translated into 15 languages making it yet another literary sensation from South Asia.
Being an aficionado of riddles, puzzles, trivia and quiz shows I watch KBC regularly so I was intrigued because a novel based on a popular game show seemed to be both topical and imaginative. The plot is simple enough–the hero, abandoned as a child and given the unusual name Ram Mohammed Thomas by a Catholic priest, when Hindu priests and Muslim mullahs argued that he could be of either or any faith, grows up to be one of the legion of urban uneducated youth of the city and wins a billion rupees on a television quiz show very similar to KBC.
The producers of the show have him arrested on charges of fraud and try to prove that Thomas cheated to win the jackpot but the young man in a night long confessional, carries us through each answer which came to him as a part of his journey through life. Since the questions are apparently selected randomly from a bank fed into the computer so it just happens that Ram Mohammad Thomas gets the twelve or is it thirteen answers right. He explains how he knew the answers to all the questions and we learn how a boy born on Christmas Day, becomes Mohammed to his friend Salim, Thomas to an Australian diplomat and Ram to the aging actress Neelima as each story gives Thomas reprieve from the case. It is an interesting premise because it illustrates the inherent element of chance, fortune or life experience that determines how one will perform in any given situation.
Swarup’s narrative takes us on an expedition through the gritty reality and sordid netherworld of Indian cities. It is in the chawls and mohallas of these cities that we are introduced to the many colorful characters which are a part of the collective South Asian lexicon and to the modern Indian panorama. From slums to the Taj Mahal it is bleak and grand by turns. As street children influenced by the all pervasive movie culture of Bollywood, Thomas and his friend Salim dream of becoming film stars and fantasize about the heroines. It is a world that they finally break into and as the twin strands of a TV quiz show and a biography merge, Q&A ends in–what else–a perfect Sholay moment.
The characters who feature in Thomas’ life, though sometimes sketchily penned, are evocative of the whole South Asian experience–the aging actress Neelima evoked memories of stories read and heard about Meena Kumari; the diplomat who trades state secrets; the betting syndicate where Ahmed Khan puts money on Sachin Malvankar’s 37th Test century and the beggars’ conglomerate which sends children to the streets are familiar to us all if not at first hand then through newspapers and the Television.
In a recent interview Swarup said “I did not want to write about the privileged class, I wanted to explore the core of contentment in the under class. It is something that you have seen in Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay. The challenge was not to adopt a patronising tone nor a syrupy style.” He succeeds to the extent that it is a racy read; in fact a friend of mine read the first half in the backseat of a car going from Gulshan to Motijheel during rush hour which can be construed to be as much a comment on the readability of the book as on the problems of Dhaka traffic!
However my main criticism is that Swarup tries too hard with the multi-faith many-cultured ambience so that while some of the episodes ring true others do not. It might just be a matter of personal taste but I find the effort to be all-accepting to all men a mite tiresome. Also the language does not sustain the narrative as it promised to do. A Seth or a Roy he is not, but Swarup is charming and beguiling in a manner entertaining enough to provide one evening’s amusement.
In fact the novel reads more like a screenplay of the Amar Akbar Anthony variety so it was not surprising when Swarup confessed that “Hindi films have been a great influence.” Indeed a Gurinder Chadda or Mira Nair version on the big screen in the very near future is not just a possibility but a probability.
My main interest in the book is its relevance to contemporary taste–particularly the effect that television in the form of a personality and a programme have on the popular imagination. The unpalatable diet of repetitious situations on the family soaps as well as the gratuitous violence and sex not only on the programmes but on the news actually make a general knowledge game show appear enticing. With its interesting blend of arcane facts, trivia and snippets of popular lore; a mélange of entertainment, common sense and observational skills as well as sound general knowledge, KBC captures the popular imagination because most people can play along and if they are Indians get most of the answers right.
Apparently there have been fifty million phone calls to the show from people eager to take up the challenge. It just goes to show that clean family oriented programmes have an appeal–a programme that one can watch without blushing in the company of the elders of a family or with children has become rare indeed and lifelines, confident, sure, lock the answer appear to have become part of the contemporary vocabulary.
The added attraction and a lot of the success of the show is created by the mellifluous voice and glamorous personality of Amitabh Bachchan as he conducts the show with a rare aplomb. With his flawless Hindi and impeccable English Mr. Bachchan is almost never at a loss for words. I say “almost” because proposals of marriage tend to make him speechless with shock as does the unabashed adoration of his legions of followers. Yet even as he blushes slightly and looks down in embarrassment he is ready to take the show forward and on to the next question on the computer screen.
Which brings me to my question: Isn’t it time we had a Bangladesh version of KBC with perhaps the inimitable, multi-talented Aly Zaker as the host? Television programme producers are you reading this?
Yasmeen Murshed is a full-time bookworm and a part-time educationist . She is also the founder of Scholastica School.
Q & A *****
By Vikas Swarup
I found this first novel to be wonderfully clever, well-crafted, and enjoyable in every way.
Ram Mohammed Thomas, with a name reflecting three of India’s major religions, is in jail for winning a billion rupees on a quiz show. He is a poor orphan, who works as a waiter. He has never read a newspaper. He doesn’t know who is the President of the United States or the name of the capital of France. Surely he must have cheated to be able to answer all twelve obscure questions correctly.
The book continues as Mr. Thomas tells his lawyer stories from his life—showing how his unique life experiences happened to give him exactly the information he needed. The stories are told in the order of the questions, which, naturally enough, don’t go in the chronological order of his life. The order of the stories actually builds our curiosity, and when he fills in details, we’re excited to learn the missing part of the story.
His eighteen years of life have been eventful, including brushes with murders, robberies, and great turns of fortune.
I’ve read in a writer’s magazine that writers should never use coincidence to solve their character’s problems. However, it’s a fine thing to use coincidence to get them into trouble. This novel would be irritating and unbelievable if the author told us Ram Mohammed Thomas’ amazing life story and then had him go on a quiz show and get asked exactly the questions he could answer, all relating to his past. Instead, the coincidence of the questions he could answer is what gets him into trouble in the first place, and readers are delighted by how the questions unfold, instead of skeptical. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this principle illustrated so well.
This isn’t a weighty book. It’s an adventure story with a clever premise. There are some unpleasant situations portrayed. But all in all, it’s a picture of a good-hearted orphan boy who gets through some extreme life circumstances and comes out ahead. Highly enjoyable reading.
Q & A
By Vikas Swarup
Country of Origin: London
Publisher/Distributor: Doubleday, 2005
Book Genre: Comedy
We rate it:
Date of release: 2005
Date of Review: Thursday, 23 June 2005
Ram Mohammad Thomas acquired his names, in an effort not to offend any of the religions popular in India at the time of his birth. Ram’s life has been equally unusual – culminating in being arrested for answering twelve questions correctly on a TV game show, thus winning the billion dollar first prize. And why was he arrested? Well obviously he was cheating. How could an orphan without a formal education have known the answers to the questions without cheating?
That is the premise of first-time novelist Swarup’s funny, heart-warming and sometimes tragic novel. Swarup is a practicing diplomat in India, and has taken a wry and affectionate look at his culture and people in this tale of an orphan made good. In some ways it is a modern take on the Arabian Nights, with Ram explaining to his lawyer the circumstances of his life as he sits awaiting trial.
You see, the producers of the game show estimated that it would take eight months for a winner to emerge on their new show, and by that time, the advertising revenue would have paid for a first prize. Unfortunately, the advent of Ram Mohammed Thomas has taken the Network by surprise, and they don’t have the prize money. The only solution is to prove their contestant cheated…
The hook of the story, and one that keeps the reader totally engrossed is that each question asked of Ram in the show, is a question that he knows because of a memorable event in his life. From astronomy, to the history of pistols, to minutiae about religion, Ram knows the answer, much to the annoyance of the sleazy game show host intent on getting him out of the contestant’s chair.
Swarup is a deft writer, capable of steering the mood of the story from tragedy to comedy without appearing contrived. Ram is a memorable character, with an optimistic, but cautious approach to a life, which has not treated him too kindly thus far.
– Sue Gammon
Q & A
By Vikas Swarup
Penulis/Author: Vikas Swarup (2005)
Penerbit/Publisher: Serambi (Indonesia)
Cetakan/Edition: Pertama, Desember 2006
It’s been awhile since my last post and it wasn’t because I have stopped reading. I actually read quite a few interesting books during these two months but haven’t got the time to share them in writing. I am doing this right after I completed my reading so that I won’t put another delay to it.
Many of us are probably a fan of a popular quiz on TV that asks intriguing questions to win big money. My reading this time is a novel about an boy who won the maximum prize on “Who Will Win a Billion” aka W3B quiz in India. Of course, this is just a novel, a work of fiction. But imagine if this happens in a real life, wouldn’t you think this is impossible?
The same absurdity led the quiz’ management to accuse Ram of being a cheater. They request the police to arrest and interrogate Ram, in order to find who else was involved on helping him winning the jackpot, just like the scandal in Britain’s “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire”. Ram Mohammad Thomas is just a young restaurant helper with no proper education. It is highly unlikely he knows all the answers to those questions unless there are insiders who helped him, and it is very unlikely he relies only on luck all through the twelve questions given.
This isn’t a simple tale about winning a billion, but there’s an in depth to it where we can observe social realism, a cynic that always been labelled onto lower class people, the poor, those who lack of possessions. While uncovering the truth one-by-one, one question at a time, Smita the lawyer learns Ram’s life. Readers are taken on a tour through India’s big cities and big stories; from orphanage to the street life, from the glam of Taj Mahal to the red district, from the religious spirit to the religions clashes. Even his name, Ram Mohammad Thomas, is a mixture of 3 religions. Inside him, we may find the treasure and shadow of India, but only if we look closely and fairly. Perhaps indeed Ram has that much luck and blessings from Btari Durga that gave him all questions he happened to know the exact answers!
Interesting plot is the magnet of this novel which has been translated into 32 languages. According to Wikipedia, the rights to make the film has been acquired by Film Four company.
Q and A surpassed all expectations I had for this book, and I found myself hidden behind its cover every waking moment I could spare. Not only has this book matured me in ways I never thought possible, I find myself inspired by it. From the engrossing yet heart-rending tale of Ram Thomas Mohammad’s child and adolescent years to the unexpected plot and characters, Q and A definitely gives the reader a taste of what poverty is really like, while keeping them on their toes about the inconspicuous storyline. Vikas Swarup has written such a gut-wrenching tale, that I wonder if this story is more of an anecdote than a Non-fiction tale. I loved this book; Ram’s story is definitely one that should be shared with all and I will definitely be suggested and recommended to all!
–Connie (Toronto, ON)
John Cheeran | 04-Feb 07:39 PM IST
A master, not an Accidental Apprentice
Young India is bound to make Vikas Swarup’s new book – The Accidental Apprentice – a bestseller. Contemporary India comes alive in this page-turner from the author of Slumdog Millionaire and published by Simon and Schuster on January 31.
As Sapna Sinha, a sales girl in an electronics boutique in Delhi, bites into an unusual seven step challenge to become the CEO of ABC group of companies, owned by Vinay Mohan Acharya, one of India’s richest businessmen, Swarup skillfully presents an India that is in transition, running fast to keep its tryst with destiny.
This is an unputdownable novel. Swarup succeeds in arousing the reader’s curiosity from the very beginning and manages to hold the suspense intact till the end. The twist in the tale, to admit it, is quite unexpected although every little clue has been placed at the right turn and at the right corner so that when it hits you, you don’t feel that it is out of context. That’s Swarup’s success.
You join Sapna Sinha in her jail cell and then you don’t step back. All the right ingredients are there to make it a racy read. Khap panchayts, kidney rackets, family dramas and dilemmas, corrupt politicians, Gandhian crusaders, child labour, reality television shows, haughty Bollywood stars, investigative journalists and corporate rivalry become textbooks as Sapna gets her CEO training.
Sapna, indeed, comes out a winner in six of the seven life tests set by Acharya. His tests of leadership, integrity, courage, foresight, resourcefulness and decisiveness were tough but deftly handled by Sapna. The seventh test, the hardest of them all, then spirals out of Sapna’s control. It was one test she was never prepared for. It pushes her to her limits, but she fights back.
Acharya’s basic philosophy is simple — in life you never get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate. But things reach a stage where there is little room for negotiation. More than Acharya and corporate warfare, Sapna is battling ghosts from her past.
To me, Swarup scores best in his portrayal of Big Ben, the Gandhian Nirmala Ben. It is a delicate expose on the media, middleclass mores and teleactivism. Nirmala Ben gets elevated to saintly status by the electronic media as she goes on a fast unto death at (where else) at Jantar Mantar. From someone who has been nitpicking at life in an LIG colony in Rohini, Nirmala Ben emerges as the nation’s conscience. Swarup has given Anna Hazare some competition.
And you wonder why Nirmala Ben has to be a kleptomaniac and realize only later how that trait opens the door to freedom for Sapna and the eventual denouement of the Accidental Apprentice. Here is a master at work, no doubt. Not an accidental apprentice.
Paul Dunn | Published at 12:01AM, April 6 2013
Raghu Karnad | May 3, 2013 6:35 pm
A modern fairy tale navigates the hopes and fears of India
The novelist Vikas Swarup is partial to stories of incredible windfall, and for good reason. In 2005, when Swarup was working as an Indian diplomat, his debut novel was published. Q&A is the story of a young slum-dweller who wins a fortune in a quiz show where he knows all the answers, having been destined to accumulate them through the events of his life.
It was well-reviewed but appeared, after six months, to have completed its turn under the spotlight. Then it was adapted for the screen and released in 2008 as Slumdog Millionaire. The film, directed by Danny Boyle, won eight Oscars and its success lifted Swarup to a prominence to which few writers, let alone civil servants, dare aspire. For Swarup, incredible windfalls really are possible.
Swarup’s new novel, The Accidental Apprentice, introduces us to Sapna Sinha, who works as a sales assistant at an electronics showroom in New Delhi. On a routine Friday visit to the temple, Sapna finds herself faced with a pious billionaire, Vinay Mohan Acharya, and an outlandish proposition: she can take over his company if she can pass seven tests to confirm her latent qualities. Acharya proves his identity by flashing an all-black American Express Centurion card (“I have encountered this rare species just once before, when a flashy builder from Noida used it to pay for a 60-inch Sony LX-900 costing almost 400,000 rupees.”). At first Sapna refuses the offer, until circumstances press her into accepting the industrialist’s challenge.
There are outlines of some familiar devices here. It’s easy to spot the reality show The Apprentice, in which candidates compete in a series of tasks to win an executive position. But the most traceable outline is that of Swarup’s first book. The action of Q&A advances through rounds of quiz questions, just as The Accidental Apprentice does through Sapna’s tests “from the textbook of life”. Through these episodes, Swarup shows us a series of tableaux to depict life in emergent India.
Sapna’s tests confront her with great social forces that ebb and flood over the precarious turf of middle-class India, and Swarup is able to skim them right from the surface of India’s current mediascape: more reality TV shows, this time for singing talent; brutal conservatism embodied in village councils that cast errant young lovers to their graves; a lone Gandhian’s fast, a stance that “snowballs into an avalanche” of protest against corruption.
At times Sapna’s story seems to be running alongside a ticker-tape of yesterday’s news. In building these scenes, Swarup leans harder on fidelity than invention, which is a pity. Real events in India have a rub-your-eyes quality that should license fiction to fly further out, but mostly it lags far behind.
When the book does return to its central concern, both plot and exposition gain their footing. At one point, Sapna buys a book of business advice which describes success as “always the result of hard work, concentration, careful planning and persistence. Success is not a lottery but a system.” Yet her own, lone chance at success, the boon she received at the temple, seems a clear retort to such patter.
Swarup may be partial to stories of implausible winnings as a reaction to modern Indian life. In Delhi and other Indian cities, the true scale of new wealth, and the means of its accumulation, are only hazily apparent to regular folks. Expanding areas within mega-cities are being transformed into playgrounds for a new class of super-rich: brassy affairs with entry through the helipad lounge.
The income graph needs to be rescaled so frequently that, for the old elites and white-collar families, it’s hard to judge if they’re still climbing or now falling down the social scale. Earlier convictions about the route to success – an ancient faith in exam-taking, or a younger trust in invested capital – may not get them anywhere close to the top floor. So what will?
Some Indian writers, most famously Aravind Adiga in The White Tiger (2008), identify the problem as a tightening bond between illegality, violence and entrepreneurship. Others, like Swarup, choose to re-mystify success, which is not less honest: “Hope is a recreational drug, giving you an artificial high based on a dosage of unrealistic expectations,” Sapna mutters in a low moment. Other characters refer to the ways the hope drug is administered: bogus equity, talent shows, the actual lottery.
Sapna, whose name means “dream”, is from a generation of young Indians spoiled by two decades of buoyant and liberalised growth. The fear is that, in times ahead, those spoils will go to someone else. What else to do then but go to the temple, fold your palms, and pray for someone to tap your shoulder?
May 6, 2013
Vikas Swarup’s debut novel, Q&A, became the wildly successful movie Slumdog Millionaire…This, his third novel, is a tale of a young woman’s moral fortitude against the corruption of modern India…she is brave and fierce and we like her…Swarup’s voice has a magical quality – an essential kindness, a likeability…Like the Bollywood dance at the end of Slumdog Millionaire, it is oddly uplifting and joyful. The film rights are no doubt already sold.
May 6, 2013
Sapna, a resourceful Delhi shop assistant struggling to support her mother and sister, is approached out of the blue by a tycoon who offers her a job as CEO of his company – provided she can pass seven unspecified tests. In the process she confronts some of India’s most deep-rooted problems, from corruption and child labour to forced marriage. It gets off to an exciting start and ends with a spectacular twist.
Swarup puts a distinctively Indian spin on this thoroughly enjoyable crime novel with a scenario that will remind many of The Hunger Games.
May 2, 2013
‘A complex, challenging and deeply moving tale of following our dreams until they come true by the bestselling author of Slumdog Millionaire’.
April 23, 2013
‘…a lowly Delhi shop assistant is set to inherit a fortune – but not until she completes seven trials set by her shady benefactor’
By MAGGIE HODGE KWAN October 30, 2014 · Updated 12:07 PM
Books are so powerful – they take us to new places and allow us to experience completely unfamiliar surroundings. Reading asks us to empathize with people whose lives are nothing like ours. And when an author is able to draw a reader completely into a story, it’s a success.
Set in India, The Accidental Apprentice tours the reader around this gorgeous country, from the busy city streets to small villages. In it, a humble salesgirl named Sapna is offered the opportunity to become the CEO of a business empire worth ten billion dollars.
To win the companies, though, Sapna must complete seven challenges from a billionaire’s “textbook of life.” These challenges are meant to test Sapna’s character, intelligence, and integrity. However, as Sapna throws herself into challenge after challenge, she begins to question the nature of the quest: are the challenges real, or is a billionaire merely playing with her mind?
The Accidental Apprentice is action-packed and full of suspenseful moments, but often has a lot of heart.
Maggie Hodge Kwan is the customer services librarian at the Port Alberni branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library.
June 1, 2014 Issue
A chance encounter results in an unbelievable offer for 23-year-old Sapna Sinha. Billionaire industrialist Vinay Mohan Acharya approaches saleswoman Sapna, the family breadwinner since her father’s untimely death, as she leaves a temple in Delhi on her lunch hour, offering to make her CEO of his huge conglomerate if she can pass seven tests of character “from the textbook of life.” Facing a family financial crisis, a suspicious Sapna reluctantly accepts the offer and soon displays leadership, integrity, courage, foresight, resourcefulness, and decisiveness, according to Acharya, in seemingly random situations, ranging from preventing an arranged marriage to breaking up a sweatshop employing children to acting to save her sister’s dreams and her mother’s life. But things go awry in the course of the last, most difficult test, leaving Sapna facing the death penalty and confirming that people are not always what they seem.
Slumdog Millionaire author Swarup is a skilled storyteller who doesn’t hesitate to take on some of the most troublesome issues of his native land—corruption, caste, color, tradition—as he also captures and celebrates its sights and sounds in this fast-moving mystery.
— Michele Leber
IBNLive.com | 29-Jan 15:41 PM
Is ‘The Accidental Apprentice’ the next ‘Slumdog’?
New Delhi: In life you never get what you deserve: you get what you negotiate. Vikas Swarup, the author of Q&A, the novel that inspired the Oscar-winning film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, has come up with another page turner – ‘The Accidental Apprentice’. As plot-driven narrations go, ‘The Accidental Apprentice’ has the hallmarks of a successful screenplay and might just hit pay dirt as ‘Slumdog’ did in 2009.
From the start, you cannot help but notice that the ‘Apprentice’, which sets a fast enough pace, would make a better movie script than a novel. It has all the ingredients of a paperback you would perhaps finish on an 18-hour train journey.
……..you have to give it to Swarup for keeping his reader hooked till the end of this page-turner.
Published: Friday, Feb 8, 2013, 16:18 IST
By Varsha Naik | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
Book Review: The Accidental Apprentice
This new novel by Vikas Swarup is a definite page-turner. As you get into it, you are introduced to Sapna, a young girl who works hard in an electronics store to make ends meet, dealing with bad bosses and creepy Delhi boys who letch and try to proposition her often enough.
After the death of her father, Sapna is compelled to become the sole breadwinner for her family comprising her mother who is weighed down by multiple illnesses and her sister who has her head in the clouds and dreams of being a celebrity.
As it happens, Sapna meets a billionaire industrialist who tells her he wants her to become CEO of his company, if she passes seven tests of life. Sceptical at first, Sapna is forced to take up his offer when things begin to fall apart at home. Here begins the tale of mayhem as all of a sudden things begin to happen to her, that she least expected, and you find out how she deals with them.
All through you wonder if these are really circumstances of fate or is the billionaire Vinay Mohan Acharya orchestrating events to unfold in a manner of his choosing. The book, though not pointingly, touches upon many social evils that still exist in India. One hopes that in his own subtle manner Vikas has tried to bring these problems to light and that the people who read the book will not forget these matters once they put the book away.
Through this tale, Vikas allows us to get intimate with the main characters, learning little things about them and allowing us to be closely involved in their journey through this book. Parts of the book will make you cry with Sapna and her family, others will make you want to scream out loud at the attitudes of others. The book builds up nicely, with Sapna’s tests becoming more and more personal and harder to separate from, and climaxes with an unexpected ending.
The Accidental Apprentice
Vikas Swarup, known for his hugely popular “Q & A”, the book behind the award winning film “Slumdog Millionaire” has just published his latest novel, and even without the Slumdog hype, this was always going to be a great book.
I absolutely loved “The Accidental Apprentice,” and gobbled it up in record time.
It is a fast-paced book, well-written, with an intriguing storyline – how Vinay Mohan Acharya, an uber-rich Indian billionaire picks a young Delhi girl out of obscurity, and plans on making her his successor and the CEO of his company? All Sapna Sinha, a 23 year old shop assistant, must do is pass seven tests to prove she is indeed worthy of becoming Mr. Acharya’s successor.
The book takes us on a journey with Sapna, as she negotiates this new and oftentimes frightening development in her life. She has a wise head on her young shoulders, yet despite her misgivings about this fantastical sounding plan, she embarks on each challenge with her own brand of honesty and courage and values.
There are two extraordinary things about this book.
One is that Mr. Swarup gets inside the head and the mind and the skin of a young woman and tells her story with an accurate voice.
And the second extraordinary thing is the author’s impeccable sense of timing.
In the aftermath of a brutal gang-rape in Delhi in December 2012 and the consequent soul-searching that the country has gone through, as a nation questions its own moral views, its attitude to women and its apparent unwillingness to help out strangers, Mr. Swarup’s book is beyond timely. We meet members of a Haryana family, coolly marrying off their daughter against her wishes to a much older man. We meet would-be rapists. We meet corrupt policemen.
We encounter apathy and corruption and pure evil, all of which this young woman must fight, and without being overly dramatic, one can almost see Sapna as a symbol for an emerging, socially-aware India. The India that protested against the gang-rape, despite the water cannons and beatings of its own government.
I won’t spoil your enjoyment of the book by telling you how Sapna’s quest ends.
But suffice it to say that this book is a page-turner, is so up-to-the-mark about contemporary India, especially Delhi, that is beyond a piece of fiction.
Find the review here: http://christinesbookreviews.com/reviews/2013/02/05/accidental-apprentice-vikas-swarup/
Radha Thomas | 10-Feb 2013
Injustice. Redemption. Evil. Good. Right. Wrong. Wretchedness. Chance. Good fortune. Much like the saga of the luckless Jamal Malik in the superhit phenomenon Slumdog Millionaire, based on the book Q&A by Vikas Swarup, the writer-diplomat’s latest epic, The Accidental Apprentice, is about Sapna Sinha, a 23-year-old girl who faces several larger-than-life incidents that dramatically alter her destiny.
Sapna and her family were living peacefully in Nainital where her father was a schoolteacher. One day, her sister commits suicide. This throws the idyllic family into turmoil and they decide to move to Delhi to escape their ghosts and make a new start.
But Delhi traffic being what it is, Sapna’s father dies in a hit-and-run accident, leaving young Sapna to take on the responsibility of the remaining household — an ailing mother who cannot work and a flighty sister with grandiose dreams of stardom and lifestyle demands to match.
Life is difficult for the three women who are at the mercy of destiny — all that can possibly go wrong, does.
Deeply religious, Sapna tries to be a dutiful daughter and generous sister, sacrificing her own dreams to maintain peace at home. But the fact that she is resigned to her life — of being a “lowly” salesgirl in an electronics shop — gives us a clue that things will change. Those temple visits can’t, of course, come to naught.
One day, after a visit to the temple, she is waylaid by an eccentric billionaire who puts forth a bizarre proposition. He offers her the opportunity to become the next CEO of his $10-billion company, provided she passes a series of tests. At first she is reluctant, but eventually accepts the challenge; both the mystery and the promise of financial rewards outweighing her scepticism.
Stories within stories within stories unfurl and roll across the landscape of India where we meet various characters, sometimes stereotypical but always colourful.
From a rural couple who force their young and beautiful daughter to marry an older man, to crooked doctors who thrive on kidney transplant tourism, from acid-throwing lovers to child labourers, from Mumbai’s fabled casting couches to shady industrialists and spies, the story moves rapidly with Sapna zooming from city to village, from incident to episode over a period of six months, averting one catastrophe after another.
In the process, Sapna becomes a modern-day superwoman who fearlessly takes on various societal evils — she defends the poor, saves the weak, helps the needy and exposes the corrupt. All the while, the billionaire is monitoring her progress and here the parallel to the talk show host in Slumdog… is evident.
There are many scenes — running from the police, rolling down hillsides, ghosts in dusty, abandoned houses, fights at knife point, and even an Indian toilet complete with excrement (yes, another one) — that you can see in a fast-paced movie, even if you’re not Danny Boyle.
Like he does to his protagonist in Q&A, here too the author showers Sapna with good fortune, lucky escapes and opportune moments, making for a drama-filled story. The outcome is predictable, and that’s intentional. A film deal seems imminent.
Anjana Basu | 25 March 2013
Girl at a Hairpin Bend
Urban India, its fervid ambitions, a girl’s sentimental education make up a novel of allegorical realism
‘In life you never get what you deserve: you get what you negotiate’. That line would be enough to get the whole of new India lunging for Vikas Swarup’s latest. We live in a world of negotiation—children negotiating for TV watching rights, not to mention people negotiating for salaries, hostage negotiations and all the other kinds that have made ‘negotiation’ a buzzword. But then, Vikas Swarup specialises in what I tend to think of as the conceptual novel: a fast-moving page-turner which is idea-based and therefore turns into an allegory of sorts, making it ideal for a world which believes in self-help books and Paulo Coelho.
Swarup gets straight to it with his premise stated right at the beginning: Sapna Sinha’s life changes because of a chance encounter in a temple. Sapna is offered a chance to become a CEO by a man looking for his successor, provided she pass his somewhat strange recruitment dictates. Coming from a middle-class background and being thrust into the position of family bread-earner after the death of her father and suicide of her sister Alka, Sapna is suspicious, and determined not to stick her neck out. But fate puts her into a position where she is forced to give in. From then on follows a series of tests—seven actually, that magical number of fairy tales and morality stories, with the last the most difficult—that should prove or disprove the theory.
If you’re a cynical reader, you will expect her to fly through the tests, compulsively turning the pages to see what happens next. During the course of it all, Swarup guides us through Anna Hazare’s India, a country where reality shows, auditions and khap panchayats are a reality of life, even amongst IT-savvy young people. And where media hype with a Bollywood star thrown in can make a brand out of a very ordinary person overnight. Of course, Swarup is not really allowing all this time to make a point, just filling in atmosphere. This eye for trends, however, is much in keeping with the way he fixed on the Kaun Banega Crorepati phenomenon for Q&A.
Both Q&A and The Accidental Apprentice are written in the first person, and both focus on an allegory, but that is where the similarity ends. Sapna comes from a different background, so getting inside her head must have been difficult for Vikas Swarup because you wonder, for example, how she would recognise a high-class hooker when she sees one—as in her partial description of Mr Acharya’s blonde secretary. Of course, the fact that Sapna is a woman and a first class English Honours graduate makes it possible for Swarup to hold up the novel with various moral musings that add to the allegorical quality of The Accidental Apprentice. And she is realistic enough not to fall for the first brilliant offer that comes her way, unlike her sister Neha, who is determined like most of young India to get her five minutes of fame on a TV screen somewhere. Sapna is unmoved by the media and what it represents, though she knows enough to make use of it when it suits her.
Swarup loves sketching details about people in a few broad strokes, like the contestants in a pop reality show, or the Gandhian Nirmala Ben—a Bengali married to a Gujarati, though she could have managed equally well without the Bengali touch—whose kleptomania turns out to be a good red herring in the end. Many of those details are in fact used to contribute to the ending, though not all of them are equally effective.
I must confess that it was fun trying to second-guess the author while flipping through the pages.
In the end, the moral of the story is something quite different from what you imagined it to be at the beginning. But then, life-changing events have a right to make you wiser, don’t they?
Anuja Chauhan | 18-Feb 2013
The Accidental Apprentice should have been called The Incidental Apprentice. Because, when you get to the end of the book, the apprenticeship feels slightly beside the point. There is a twist to the tale, and a pretty good twist-I for one, didn’t see it coming at all-but it’s a slightly out-of-syllabus twist. It makes the entire apprenticeship seem like a big fat red herring. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The book is about Sapna Sinha, eldest of a trio of three sisters reared in Nainital by their schoolteacher father and (largely irrelevant) colourless mother. The middle sister commits suicide and the family moves to the big city (Delhi, where they live in the tellingly named Low Income Group or LIG flats in Rohini) to ‘forget’. Then father dies in a road accident and Sapna (who dreamed of joining the Civil Services) has to quit her studies and get a job as a salesgirl in an electronics showroom in order to support mother and surviving younger sister, who is very pretty and dreams of being Miss India or Miss Indian Idol.
One day, when Sapna is visiting the Hanuman Mandir near her workplace, she meets a stern-faced, silver-haired and shawl-swathed tycoon called Vinay Mohan Acharya who randomly announces that he has selected her to be the CEO of his mammoth company. He will pay her one lakh rupees to agree to go through seven tests that will assess her endurance, courage, foresight, etc etc. and if she passes them all, the one crore rupees a year job will be hers.
Sapna, needless to say, clears the first six tests with flying colours, but nothing has prepared her for the final test. Will she clear it and land the one crore job. Read the book and find out.
The book evokes the DDA colony lifestyle rather well, as also all the aspirations and frustrations of lower middle class India. Sapna Sinha and her sisters are well etched out, multilayered and could actually be people I know….but the twist is still pretty damn good, like, I said, I didn’t see it coming. The Accidental Apprentice could make, accidentally or otherwise, a good, tight film.