Q&A by Vikas Swarup

Q&A by Vikas Swarup

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover (available in trade), 302 pages, 2005

Rating: 9/10

Reason for Reading: Someone posted about wanting to read it on BookCrazy, and since my love of Indian authors knows no bounds, I had to check it out.

Synopsis: 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 (which one of the chapters explains), Ram Mohammed Thomas floats through a wide variety of experiences, blending as necessary with people of different religions and social status. Swarup introduces the reader to new 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.

Why you should avoid this book: If you’re bothered by the huge, magical sort of coincidences common in Indian literature, be warned that Q&A is popped out of the same mould. The reality tv angle feels a touch gimmicky at times, though there’s little to complain about in regards to Swarup’s actual writing style.

Opening paragraph:

I have been arrested. For winning a quiz show.
They came for me late last night, when even the stray dogs had gone off to sleep. They broke open my door, handcuffed me and marched me off to the waiting jeep with a flashing red light.

Fabulous quotes:

We get introduced to Moolay, a thirteen-year-old with an amputated arm.
‘I hate my life,’ he says.
‘Why don’t you run away?’
‘Where to? This is Mumbai, not my village. There is no space to hide your head in his vast city. You need to have connections even to sleep in a sewage pipe. And you need protection from the other gangs.’
‘Other gangs?’
‘Yes. Two boys ran away last month. They came back within three days. They couldn’t find any work. Bhiku’s gang wouldn’t allow them to operate in their area. Here, at least we get food and shelter, and when we are working for Maman none of the other gangs bother us.’

‘But that was just a film, Madam,’ I plead with her.
‘Hush! Have you forgotten what I told you once, that an actor is an actor for life? Do not forget that I will forever be known as the Tragedy Queen. And I didn’t become a tragedy queen just by reciting lines given to me by a scriptwriter. I lived the life of my characters. Ghalib didn’t become a great tragic poet just by writing some lines in a book. No. You have to feel pain, experience it, live it in your daily life before you can become a tragedy queen.’
‘If this is the criteria, then can I become a tragedy king?’ I ask with the wide-eyed innocence of twelve-year-old.
She does not answer.

Also recommended: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini; The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy; The In-Between World of Vikram Lall by M.G. Vassanji.

Also by this author: Q&A is Swarup’s first novel.

Fun tidbit: Swarup is an Indian diplomat who served in America, Ethiopia, Great Britain, and Turkey.

Would I read more by this author? Absolutely. He doesn’t have the same writing prowess as authors like Salman Rushdie, but he still captures all of the things I love about Indian literature.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

Comments are closed.