Friday, February 20, 2009

Q & A (a.k.a. 'Slumdog Millionaire') book review

Posted by lea at 4:57 PM

I doubt there's anyone out there who hasn't heard of Slumdog Millionaire by now, especially with all the Oscars talk about town lately. The premise is that young orphan Ram Mohammed Thomas, who lives in the slums of Mumbai, enters a quiz show along the lines of 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' and wins the biggest jackpot in Indian history. However, the show's producers are unable to afford his astronomical prize money, and have accused him of cheating in order to avoid payment. Somehow, he must prove that he knew the answers to all the questions on the show despite his lack of education and obvious disadvantages. The story of Ram's eclectic life ('eclectic' isn't the right word here... different, diverse, multifarious) unfolds as he explains how the questions asked of him, by twist of fate or hand of fortune, just happen to be those he knew the answers to. Each chapter relates to one pocket of his life's story, which happens to contain the answer to one question asked on the show.

Partway through the story, the Q&A format becomes a little tedious and there are times when belief has to be suspended in order to allow the story to flow. However, the ending certainly makes up for any shortcomings along the way, and new information presented at the end of the book makes you see the whole story again through different eyes.

Author Vikas Swarup writes quite lyrically, and the narrative is paced well to keep you interested throughout. Like a number of other books set in India, there's a disturbingly casual (and in this case, innocent) approach to crime and violence, and the way Q&A touches on the subjects of incest, rape, domestic violence and police corruption (with deeper intent, no doubt) is reflective of the culture in which the story is set, without distracting from the main story itself.

Expect to shed a tear or two at the end, because there is some real beauty and tenderness in this story.

 

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