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on 20 May 2005
Ram Mohammed Thomas, a poor, 18-year old waiter from the wrong side of the tracks, becomes the biggest quiz-show winner in history, scooping a billion rupee prize in an Indian television programme which goes one better than 'Millionaire'. Unfortunately, the producers don't have the money to pay him, so instead, charge him with fraud. Fortunately, a young lawyer comes to his assistance. Chapter by chapter, the young man recounts his autobiography, the narrative of his fraught life illustrating how it is that an ignorant, uneducated teenager comes to know the answers to all the questions he is asked on the show.
This is a wonderful adventure as we piece together the life of young Ram Mohammed Thomas. He is a man with three names - no one can quite work out whether he is Hindu, Moslem, or Christian. He is a young man with many more identities. Vikas Swarup (an Indian diplomat), leads us through a lifestyle which passes sardonic, not to mention savage commentary on contemporary India.
The tale is almost Dickensian in the range of characters who appear on the pages, wholly Dickensian in its theme of the homeless orphan setting out to find his way in the world, transforming survival into fortune.
The tale is told in a dozen short stories which are woven together into a whole autobiography. We move backwards and forwards through Ram Mohammed Thomas' life, encountering the varied characters who shape his destiny. We have gangsters and robbers, Bollywood, poverty and exploitation, espionage and a wry dig at diplomacy and notions of racial and cultural superiority, and a reflection on how truth is always the first casualty of war as India and Pakistan square up.
Vikas Swarup writes a well-paced novel. Although the action moves back and forth through our anti-hero's young life, the pace of the novel is such that the various strands remain imprinted on your mind. Indeed, the author twists and manipulates your reading, holding back little surprises for you.
He comments on religious bigotry and the abuse of children. He presents cinema as the opium of the people, the glitz and glamour disguising the truth. He savages the role of television in pandering to the lowest common denominator, feeding greed, yet interrupting news coverage of the outbreak of war with adverts and the mundane. And Swarup also makes emphatic the gulf which exists in a world where caste, class, and money dominate and the rich cannot conceive that the poor might have knowledge, intelligence, and street-wise education.
An exciting, page-turning romp which will oblige you to think and question ... and a book which is already being widely touted as likely to be filmed in the near future.
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on 13 June 2013
As great as the movie "Slum Dog Millionaire" was, the story that it was based on is even better! Visas Swarup has quickly become one of my favorite authors. The way he tells stories is fascinating, and his ability to describe so many characters in depth really brings them to life. Having been curious about India and its rich diversity for much of my life, Swarup has only fueled my desire to visit this mystifying place.
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on 3 March 2005
Q&A is an amazing book. One of the finest novels you will ever read. Possibly the best debut novel by an Indian Author. And the reason is not hard to find. Its the best marriage I have ever seen between prose and plot.
First the plot. An ill-educated, 18 year old orphan, working as a waiter in Jimmy's Bar in Mumbai, appears on the latest show in town called W3B - "Who Will Win A Billion" and correctly answers all 12 questions to win the jackpot of one billion rupees. The unscrupulous producers of the show are stunned. How can an illierate water answer all these tough questions. So they promptly bribe the police and ask them to frame Ram Mohammad Thomas for cheating. A young lawyer called Smita Shah suddenly appears in the police station where Thomas is being tortured, reads out the law to the Inspector and takes him away to her house. Then, over the course of that night - the longest night of Thomas's life - she gets him to recount the story of his life and how it enabled him to answer the 12 questions on the quiz show, question by question. So, as can guess, the novel has exactly 12 chapters.
Now for the prose. The story is narrated in a stunningly original first person voice. Simple yet supple. Non-melodramatic, yet lyrical. It made me laugh and it made me cry. Here's a sample- Ram Mohammad Thomas talking about his life in a juvenile home: "We huddle around the twenty-one-inch Dyanora TV and watch Hindi film songs and Channel V and middle-class soaps on Doordarshan. We especially like watching the films on Sunday.These films are about a fantasy world. A world in which kids have mothers and fathers, and birthdays. A world in which they live in huge houses, drive in huge cars and get huge presents. We saw this fantasy world, but we never got carried away by it. We knew we could never have a life like Amitabh Bachchan's or Shah Rukh Khan's. The most we could aspire to was to become one of those who held power over us. So whenever the teacher asked us 'What do you want to become when you grow up?' 'No one said Pilot or Prime Minister or Banker or Actor. We said cook or cleaner or sports teacher or, at the very best, warden. The Juvenile Home diminished us in our own eyes." The best thing about this novel is that it really makes you believe in luck, that indeed it could happen this way and the underdog can really have the most unlikely of triumphs.
For all those of you who have become jaded with exotic generational sagas from India or magical realist fables with talking parrots and flying carpets, Q&A will come as a breath of much needed fresh air.
Go read it!
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on 24 August 2015
I'd put off reading this book because I'd seen the film and thought it would spoil my enjoyment of reading it. I'm glad that I finally picked it up to read it's a very enjoyable read and the film didn't distract from what is a very clever plot
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on 24 June 2013
Had great expectations after seeing a fantastic film and was a little disappointed after first chapter or so. But..... Quickly realised this should not be judged against the film but as a book itself. Went through a few more pages and it soon sprung into life with some really good descriptive work on Indian life. A good read and well worth a little patience.
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on 17 January 2009
I liked this and read it fairly quickly as the structure of it - almost a series of short stories tied together - encouraged me to get to the end of each chapter (or two, or three) before putting it down. It's darker too than I expected it to be. I've yet to see the film, but I'm guessing it may be fluffied up a bit. I would have scored this more highly, but I felt the ending let it down a bit. It's not a bad ending, but a little hurried and unconvincing.
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on 3 August 2006
Q & A by Vikas Swarup provides the reader a valuable insight into Indian society, which is beatifully narratted and delivered in this novel. The key areas pointed out in this novel, which charaterized modern Indian society are the caste system, corruption, illegal sex, widespread poverty and long standing passion for Bollywood and cricket.

The story runs in parrallel with Ram Mohammad Thomas a contestant in a quiz show along with various events occurring in his life. He is accussed of cheating in the show in which he wins a billion. The idea is based on the army general who cheated in Who want to win a millionaire in UK. That is the general gist of the story. A section which accompanies this novel is an interview with the author. This section is interesting to read.

Overall, Q & A is an enjoyable read and gives you a real taste of Indian culture. There is contrasting sides to the Indian society you will witness as a reader. The good side combined with the dark side.
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on 25 March 2007
This is an exceptional read. It's, and I do not exxagerate, one of the finest debut novels I have ever read. It is the finest novel from an Indian Author I have ever read, because it doesn't pretend to be anything, it doesn't try to be poetic, or flowery, it doesn't stink of Arundhati Roy. Here's why.

A short background first. Q and A is the story of a life less ordinary, of an orphan named Ram Mohommad Thomas, and how he manages to win Rs. One Billion in a quiz show, by answering 12 questions. The book starts off with his arrest for winning, as a simple waiter living in Dharavi could not possibly have answered quiz questions without having cheated. The book relates his story in first person, and how he explains how he got lucky. The narrative takes us through his life, explaining just how he picked up the knowledge to answer those series of 12 questions.

Now, to the craft itself. The narrative is simple, first person, and very expressive. The story is a wonderful construction, a series of coincidences, of meetings and opportunities won and lost, with Villians, heroes, bad guys, good guys, dacoits, film stars, contract killers, and everything in the world in tow. I've heard the book has already sold movie rights, and I'm not suprised. It would make for an incredible watch. I can hear you saying Forrest Gump already, but this, I assure you, is a lot better. Forrest Gump carries with it an air of complete disbelief, which makes you smile all the way through, whereas Q and A carries with an eerie air of belief, of situations that we've seen or heard of, of a life some of us live, and some choose to ignore. Whereas a Forrest Gump lives through a picture perfect life, Ram Mohammed Thomas has seen joy, suffering, pain and loss. This gives it an Aura of realism, and keeps it from becoming Filmi.

The narrative is brilliantly constructed, and is storytelling at it's finest. Books these days, well, novels, have forgotten what they are supposed to be about, which is to tell a tale, spin a yarn. This book brings that lost art back, it has no moral, it has no fancy characters, with inner turmoil and angst, it's a potboiler of a story, plain and simple.

Now, to the ending. I wish I wrote it. I finished the book, and aside from an appreciative content smile on my face, only one thing came to mind, "Damn, I wish I wrote that". The ending has the kind of twist you expect at the end of a great story, and if I wasn't a writer myself, I couldn't have appreciated the thought and sentiment that goes into coming up with something like that.

What is it?

Read it and find out.

Oh, I'll leave you with the last line though.

"Because luck comes from within."
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There are two comments that have to be made about this book. Firstly it is vastly more entertaining than the film and secondly it is very different to the film.

So whether you view the film or read the book first you will find that the stories differ greatly. On screen I found the plot implausible whereas in the novel it has more of a fantasy feel about it. Above all there is more humour in the book. There is plenty of sadness but the scenarios are more believable and certainly the ending is superior.

I can see why the vast changes were made for the film to make it more of a blockbuster, but it is the quiet intricacies of the book that make the story more of a delight.

The ending came as a surprise, whereas in the film it was all too predictable. This is an extremely enjoyable and well written novel. I don't usually take to stories from India, but this has been an exception. It is written very much with a western feel to it. Well worth the time and effort.
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on 30 May 2006
Swarup uses his intellectual charm to make you turn the pages of this book right to the very end. The simple but articulate style of writing only appears to be melodramatic on the surface but underpins a great storyline that unfolds and alternates between tragic and comic. The book is thoroughly entertaining and the authors sharp wit adds to a highly inventive narrative which will cease you from the very beginning. A short review does not do justice...it must be read to be loved!!!Astounding!
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