From Publishers Weekly
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. But Swarup's prose is sometimes flat and the story's picaresque form turns predictable. Ram is a likable fellow, but this q&a with him, though clever, grows wearying.
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Swarup's inventive debut traces the fortunes of Ram Mohammad Thomas from "Asia's biggest slum" to his sudden acquisition of enormous wealth as the biggest winner on the popular quiz show, Who Will Win a Billion?
A poor, uneducated waiter, Ram is arrested after the final episode in the belief that he must have cheated. In jail he shares his hardscrabble life with his lawyer: his abandonment at birth in a used clothing bin, the church orphanage where he was dubbed an "idiot orphan boy," the foster home where children were purposely crippled and forced to beg, the estate of an Australian diplomat who was really a spy, the home of an aging Bollywood actress, and his meager waiter job. Each chapter in Ram's life provided him with a correct answer on the show, as a la Forrest Gump, he has been in the right place at the right time. Ram's funny and poignant odyssey explores the causes of good and evil and illustrates how, with a little luck, the best man sometimes wins. Deborah DonovanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved