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3.9 out of 5 stars101
3.9 out of 5 stars
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon 25 April 2014
3.5 stars, but I’ll round up to 4.

I’ll be honest – I read this because I enjoyed the book and film of Q&A / Slumdog Millionaire. I liked the sound of the plot, and I fancied another trip to Swarup’s India.

Having just finished, I have mixed feelings about The Accidental Apprentice. The ‘what if’ that drives it all is a good one: what if… a rich man offers you his multi-billion company? Pass his tests, and you get the position of CEO. A great wish-fulfilment scenario. This is what happens to Sapna Sinha, a sales assistant in a Delhi electronics store. Sapna’s family are struggling to pay their bills, her mother is mourning a husband and daughter, and her sister dreams of fame and fortune, leaving Sapna head of the family.
Initially reluctant, circumstances force Sapna to accept the CEO’s offer, and the tests begin. But they are not what Sapna was expecting.

Sapna’s world is a well-created one, I could see the cities, the slums, the villages that she journeys through. I liked her – she’s smart and well-read, demonstrates her spirit and resourcefulness and shows herself to be an admirable person. Her sister Neha and mother are harder to like – neither gets enough page-time to be wholly sympathetic, though Neha gets a few scenes to become a little less two-dimensional.

The story itself gets quite episodic – each ‘test’ gets its own chapter, and you can see some ‘twists’ coming. They are enjoyable though – I let the sillier parts of the story wash over me, as I was enjoying the idea of the tests and seeing if I was right about my guesses. Lots of Sapna’s friends seem remarkably well-placed (geographically as well as career-wise) to assist Sapna just when she might need them, conveniently. Coincidence, as in Slumdog Millionaire, plays quite a big role. This works both in the book’s favour and against it – it can seem similar to Swarup’s previous book in this respect, but the plot does have some clever turns and one particular twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. I thought I was reading a written version of the Michael Douglas film ‘The Game’… but then it turned again.

There are a few dodgy phrases of English that I couldn’t be sure were meant to be written that way or if they were just badly edited, but they did jar occasionally.

I also couldn’t decide if the author didn’t plan all along for this to be made into a film, as it’s perfectly structured and characterised to have all the elements needed for a good thriller/mystery movie: mystery benefactor, resourceful heroine, smouldering but reluctant love interest, sad back-stories of death. In some ways it might make a better film than a book.

There is less poverty than in Slumdog Millionaire, but it’s still a big part of the book – sweat shops, forced marriages and honour killings, street muggings, slums all feature and are integral to the story. Sapna herself lives on the edge.

Overall, an enjoyable read if you can accept the coincidences and contrivances. A great time can be had guessing just what is going on. I would also watch this as a film, a good set of roles here for some unknowns.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 7 April 2014
I've never realised so quickly that I'd made a mistake with a book. It really seemed like it was made for the purposes of being made into a film. Extremely predictable and formulaic. Basically, it is complete junk.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 5 May 2014
Sapna Sinha has already seen more than her fair share of tragedy and hardship. The eldest daughter in a family of three, she has lost one sister and her father. She is the breadwinner and mainstay of the rest of her family: an ailing mother and a self-obsessed younger sister. When she is approached by one of the country’s richest men and offered an unbelievable opportunity, she is naturally sceptical. But circumstances conspire to draw her, against her will, into his scheme. She is told if she can pass seven tests from ‘the textbook of life’, she will become CEO of his company.

What follows is a thrilling, fast-paced chronicle of six months in Sapna’s life. She is challenged, overcomes obstacles, makes friends and discovers enemies. The ending is ingenious and although I picked up some of the clues along the way and guessed some of the minor points correctly, I was completely surprised by the final twist.

Like most people, I have heard of Slumdog Millionaire and enjoyed the film. However, I had never read Q & A on which it is based. The Accidental Apprentice is Vikas Swarup’s third book and I suspect it is also heading for a film adaptation. Writing in the first person as a member of the opposite sex is not easy, but Swarup presents Sapna’s voice beautifully. We travel with her on her journey of discovery and self-development. We meet some great characters along the way. My favourite was the kleptomaniac Gandhian, Nirmala Ben. The vision of modern-day India is as believable as it is shocking.

This is one of those ‘can’t put it down’ books. I read it late into the night and then woke early in the morning to read the closing chapters. Highly recommended.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon 28 April 2013
Vikas Swarup's third novel: 'The Accidental Apprentice' tells the story of Sapna Sinah, a middle-class salesgirl, struggling to make ends meet, who works in an electronics boutique in downtown Delhi. When leaving a temple one day, Sapna is accosted by an expensively dressed, elderly man who introduces himself as Vinay Mohan Acharya, owner of Acharya Business Consortium. Sapna is surprised; she knows that the ABC Group is one of India's largest conglomerates and that Acharya is a multi-millionaire - but she is even more surprised when he makes her an offer that he thinks she cannot refuse. Acharya is looking for a Chief Executive Officer to take over the running of ABC and, even though Sapna has absolutely no experience in this field, he has decided that she might well be the person he is looking for - but, he tells her, there is a catch; she has to pass seven tests from what he refers to as: 'the textbook of life'.

Although Sapna and her mother and younger sister are living in reduced circumstances after the death of her teacher father, Sapna turns down Acharya's offer immediately - after all, she reminds herself, if something appears to be too good to be true, it usually is. However, when a sequence of unfortunate events leave Sapna in urgent need of money, she decides to accept Acharya's offer and, with trepidation, awaits the series of tasks which will test her character, her morals, her courage, her initiative and her capabilities. In consequence, Sapna soon finds herself embroiled in a variety of unusual and difficult situations, including a forced marriage, a suicide threat, illegal child labour, a TV reality show, a visit from a Bollywood superstar, and an illegal organ donation service, to name just a few. But how does our heroine fare - and is the ultimate prize really worth reaching for?

Vikas Swarup's first novel:Q & A was made into the award-winning film: Slumdog Millionaire [DVD] and I understand that his second novel: Six Suspects is in the production process so, although I have neither read his previous two novels nor seen 'Slumdog', I was hoping that 'The Accidental Apprentice' with its allegorical theme, its interest in contemporary social issues and its emphasis on the dubious lure of financial gain, would be an informative and entertaining read. And, up to a point, this story was entertaining - but to be entirely honest, I do have to say that I found this a rather contrived and unconvincing tale which, at times, read more like a screenplay - especially the scene describing the break-up of a forced wedding which involved crooked policemen, getaway motorbikes, hidden cameras and more. Which is fine, if you are looking for some entertainment and a brief overview of some of the contemporary social issues in India, but if you are looking for something with a little more depth and credibility, then this may not be to your taste.

3 Stars.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
It would be easy to dismiss Vikas Swarup as a writer of fluff. His stories are stylized, cartoonish. The colours are bright and the characters are extremes. Plot-lines stretch credulity to breaking point as a support cast dances in geometric patterns on the station platforms. And the endings are always happy. It's Bollywood in a book.

But within all the schamltz and glitz, there's something much deeper. By taking what are essentially short stories, fitting them into a super-contrived TV gameshow format, Swarup is able to shine a light onto modern Indian society.

Unusually, The Accidental Apprentice centres around a middle class family. Sapna Sinha is an educated young woman who works as a sales assistant in a high end electrical showroom in Delhi's Connaught Place. She has money to buy treats and take auto-rickshaw rides. Yet she resents her job and her place in the hierarchy; she believes she deserves more. Sapna's family may find themselves in straitened circumstances following the death of her father, but they still have a roof over their heads, food in their bellies and room to dream of TV stardom.

Through a framing device of a wealthy businessman who wants to appoint Sapna as CEO of his corporation, Sapna is taken on something of a tour, meeting TV celebrities, journalists, wealthy moguls, police officers, government bureaucrats, poor farmers and child labourers. The stories are fairly self-contained but do have some thread of continuity running through. There are paradigm shifts aplenty as we are convinced that characters are good, then bad, then good again. Everyone stands a chance of redemption in this story, right up until the very end. But, of course, not everyone takes the opportunity...

Beneath the storyline, Swarup confronts the reader with questions about how far it is right to trade one's own ethics for the prospect of prizes. Sapna and her family are no saints and they have pretty materialistic aspirations. At times, they are selfish and vindictive. They can be quite cynical in achieving their ends. Yet their very capitalist struggle is one which does engage the reader. There are questions, too, about whether India is selling its soul in exchange for development. And if so, whether it is a price worth paying.

The ending of the story is satisfying, even if, by that point, the reader has accepted it as fantasy. The many loose ends are tied up, one after another, in an epilogue.

Overall, The Accidental Apprentice is a polished gem that may well provoke deeper thought than one first expects.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 June 2014
I bought this to read because it had been chosen by Woman's Hour as a serial, which suggested it was a good book. I am baffled by it. It is childish and cartoonish, full of ridiculous happy chances, with a denouement worthy of Scooby-Doo. Is it really meant for grown-ups? I have read many young adult novels with more subtle characterisations. The writing is awful - an over-excited mass of cliche: crowds roar, cars race, fines are hefty, scandals are hushed up, hotels are always swanky, mansions are always enormous, skylines always spectacular. The author's great gift is to rattle along with his ridiculous yarn with magnificent confidence, dragging the reader along with him. For this he should be saluted.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 July 2014
I enjoyed this story which is about a 23 year old girl who works in an electrical store who is apparently randomly chosen to be the next CEO of a giant Indian corporation. But she has to pass 7 tests first. In attempting to do she she faces many of the issues in modern Indian society.

This all makes for enjoyable reading, with lots of twists and turns. The only downside is that the story is completely unbelievable and becomes more and more incredible as it progresses until the fantastical nature of the plot becomes inescapable.

All very enjoyable though
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on 4 December 2013
I enjoyed Q & A because I felt like I was being introduced to sides of India I had not experienced while there. The account seemed to be balanced, not hyperbole. I was expecting the same from this book. Unfortunately, this book seems like a homage to Danny Boyle. There is a toilet scene and the black and white characters of a film. And Ram makes a reappearance as a couple of citations. The main character had some development, but mostly everything was stock characters. One interesting thing is that there were no female villains. And aside from one man, there were no heroes, just heroines.
If you read it as simply a mystery set in India, then the ending is unexpected. The problem with the mystery is that most of the story has nothing to do with that aspect. The book is more a collection of short stories where the heroine saves the day on seven occasions. These seven stories have little interconnection and could be read/published alone with a brief introductory paragraph for reintroduced characters, although the meaning is fairly clear anyway. The 'skill' or 'lesson' learned in each chapter is not obviously applied in any subsequent chapters, although it might be implicitly implied.
The book is easy to read and enjoyable, but not great literature. Maybe next time...
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 10 November 2013
This author had a considerable success with Q andA (Slumdog Millionaire so what did he do, he wrote the book again and I was foolish enough to buy it. I couldn't believe he would do that, so I read it. He may have changed the characters and what the main character had to do to gain success, but it remained a rehash of his earlier success. I won't read anything of his again, he obviously lacks imagination and plots.
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on 19 July 2014
This make-believe is fiction at its best, a geewhiz story that hurtles through one twist after another. It kept me enthralled from its first incredible chapter and the strength is in the author’s storytelling skills.
As with his previous books (Slumdog Millionaire and Six Suspects), which I enjoyed, Indian society is described adroitly along with some of the nation’s current issues. These are honour-killing, child slavery, government corruption, a transplants blackmarket, and so on. Chapter by chapter, the scandals are spotlighted in seven tests of character put to the young woman protagonist. The personal qualities she must show are foresight, courage, leadership, integrity, resourcefulness, decisiveness and . . . I won’t reveal the seventh and concluding outcome.
Now I look forward to the movie. Bollywood producers, please note: Here’s the perfect escapism for some fabulous songs!
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