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Q & A: A Novel Hardcover – August 2, 2005


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (August 2, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743267478
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743267472
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #405,681 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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 Donovan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

This book was a good read from page one on.
Fuzzy Lizard
The book has too many little stories and details crammed into, which can sometimes be confusing.
S. Chakravarty
It is so well written and the plot is great.
Ingrid

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 61 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Despite heartrending descriptions of sexual abuse, racism, poverty, homeless and much, much, more in modern India, this is an utterly enjoyable picaresque adventure that is one of the best reads of the year. In the hands of another author, the brief life story Ram Mohammad Thomas would probably be told as a simple tearjerker tragedy and the reader would be left to shake their head sorrowfully at the plight of another poor third-world soul. However, Swarup has a gimmick framework up his sleeve, and it works like a charm. Granted, one has to be willing to go along with the premise that this entire structure is based on coincidence of colossal proportions -- readers who aren't willing to suspend disbelief will probably not last more than a few chapters.

We first meet the 18-year-old protagonist in jail, where he sits accused of defrauding the popular TV game show "Who Wants to Be A Billionaire?" (in rupees). Despite being abandoned at birth, uneducated, and left to fend for himself for most of his life, it seems Ram somehow managed to answer the show's twelve questions correctly. To all outside observers, his social standing and lack of education appear to preclude this happening legitimately. However, just as the police are about to unleash some heavy manners on him, a mysterious lawyer intervenes and takes him away. The story then unfolds question by question, as Ram tells her via flashbacks to his life just how he managed to know each answer.

Ram's life story unfolds as a series of episodes ranging from the horrific to the merely tragicomic, and in a sense, one can view him as emblematic of India's lost children, and the book as caustic social commentary on contemporary India.
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Julia Flyte TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 2, 2008
Format: Paperback
Ram Mohammad Thomas is a boy from the Indian slums who has entered a "Who wants to be a millionaire" style television quiz show. Despite his lack of formal education, his life experiences have perfectly equipped him to answer each question that comes up. Because the show's organizers are sure that he must have cheated, they ask him to explain how he was able to answer such difficult and obscure questions. Each chapter deals with another question and answer, and as the book progresses his very colorful life story is also gradually revealed.

This is not the most well written book I've read, but the way that the plot unfolds is very clever and keeps the reader's attention throughout. As each question is revealed, you can't help thinking "okay, now how is he going to integrate THIS into Ram's story?" and it's fun to see the way that he does, while also advancing the central plot. Slumdog Millionaire tears along at a quick pace: some parts are very amusing while others are very sad, but Swarup doesn't dwell on either. The way it all comes together at the end is highly contrived, but does make for a satisfactory conclusion.

If you enjoy books about India, there are other books that are more realistic or better written (I especially recommend the wonderful and highly moving novel "A Fine Balance"), but this is an easy and entertaining story that captures much of the essence of this fascinating country.

UPDATED 12/27: I have now seen the film Slumdog Millionaire. While the film has the taken the central theme and structure of the book, it also has many differences - for starters, the hero's name. Many plot elements of Ram/Dev's life story are entirely different in the film vs the book.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By madhu m on December 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
an 18 year old uneducated waiter from bombay wins the largest ever prize-money awarded in a "who wants to be a billionaire?" quiz show. naturally, the organisers suspect foul play. did he have insider information about the questions? or did someone in the audience tip him off using signs? how could a person of such low socail standing know the answers to these difficult questions? vikas swarup's protagonist, tells his life story through each question. it just so happens that through a series of enormous coincidences, incidents in his life have provided him the answers to justthese 12 questions. as he narrates his life story question by question and answer by answer, we discover a plucky hero who has fought ahead in life through sheer courage and mental strength.

although, the stories start off bleak dealing with such weighty topics as pedophilia, homosexuality, incest, child abuse, the underworld .. the overall effect of the novel is sprightly and enjoyable. while this might not be for the squeamish, it is bound to provide good payoffs for those who stick by it.

i was lucky to be able to lay my hands on an advance copy of this book. i am normally very skeptical of indian writers in english, but vikas swarup offers us a polished debut that showcases good storytelling skills.

i would recommend this novel for people interested in a ripping yarn, and not for those interested in reading about the underbelly of indian metropolis life. this is a story with liberal license used by the author, thatstretches ones believability at points, but when the plotting is as interesting as this, one can indulge the author in his fancies.
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