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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Q & A
(Slumdog Millionaire)

Vikas Swarup

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Slumdog Millionaire

Title: Q & A
Author: Vikas Swarup
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005
Length: 318 pages
Availability: Slumdog Millionaire - US
Q & A - UK
Slumdog Millionaire - Canada
Slumdog Millionaire - India
Les fabuleuses aventures d'un Indien malchanceux (...) - France
Rupien ! Rupien ! - Deutschland
Le dodici domande - Italia
Slumdog millionaire - España
  • Originally published as Q & A, the book has now (2009) been reissued as Slumdog Millionaire
  • Q & A was made into a film in 2008, Slumdog Millionaire, directed by Danny Boyle

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Our Assessment:

B- : slapdash tour of struggling in contemporary India, with far too much stuffed in

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Christian Science Monitor . 30/8/2005 Yvonne Zipp
FAZ . 19/8/2005 Sabine Löhr
The NY Times Book Rev. . 4/9/2005 Elsa Dixler
People A- 19/9/2005 Meg Rosoff
The Telegraph . 24/4/2005 Edward Smith
The Times . 31/12/2008 Christina Koning
The Washington Post . 31/7/2005 Ron Charles

  Review Consensus:

  Has some flaws, but most thought it was okay

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)here's a can-do optimism driving the hero of Q& A, Vikas Swarup's enjoyable debut, that translates well for US audiences, even if the book itself is ultimately uneven. (...) What mars Q & A can best be described as a tonal problem. While this reader appreciated Ram's unwillingness to wallow in despair, many of the events he describes are so harrowing that the novel's brisk, even breezy, pace can seem disconcerting." - Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor

  • "Die anekdotenhaften Skizzen seines Überlebenskampfes im ungemütlichen indischen Alltag sind im einzelnen durchaus charmant und auch rasant erzählt. (...) Ist der Schock des drastischen Prologs aber einmal überwunden, arrangiert man sich leicht mit der achselzuckenden Erzählweise, die soziales Elend drastisch, aber frei von anklagender Gesellschaftskritik schildert: So lebt es sich eben heute in Indiens urbaner Unterschicht. (...) Denn zumindest langweilig ist diese nie" - Sabine Löhr, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "The connections between Ram's tales and the quiz-show questions are clever, but Swarup's prose is flat. (...) When it is turned into the movie it wants to be, Q & A will be a delight." - Elsa Dixler, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(T)he compelling cacophony comes together with joyous precision." - Meg Rosoff, People

  • "This is India at its most lurid and extreme. (...) If the prose style suggests social realism, the spirit of this novel is cinematic, even cartoon-like.(...) Even if some of Ram's adventures fail to sustain the narrative impetus, a broad and sympathetic humanity underpins the whole book. Perhaps that is why, when it was finally time for Ram's good luck to hold, I was moved as well as relieved." - Edward Smith, The Telegraph

  • "Mingling broad humour with incisive social comment, this is an absorbing and entertaining read." - Christina Koning, The Times

  • "(E)rratically comic (.....) The theme here couldn't be any more obvious if Vanna White spelled it out for us, but what Q & A lacks in subtlety it makes up for in charm and melodrama." - Ron Charles, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In Q & A Ram Mohammad Thomas tells the story of his life and all its ups and downs. He's just eighteen, and yet he has experienced one hell of a roller-coaster ride of a life, its fast and abrupt falls and rises leaving the reader dizzy and whiplashed. Swarup is relentless, too: he never eases up on the pace or the back and forth between good and bad fortune. In many ways the book is like one long retch, with those brief deceptive periods of comforting calm between otherwise unstoppable flows.
       Framing the story is Ram's greatest triumph: he participated in an Indian TV quiz show, Who Will Win a Billion ? (also known as W3B) -- and, despite being an uneducated waiter, became the first contestant to answer all twelve questions correctly and take the prize. At the beginning of the book he is arrested for this grand feat, the television producers charging that he must have cheated and that they shouldn't have to pay up. Tortured by the police, he gets a reprieve when a lawyer is willing to at least listen to his side of the story, demanding to hear the full story of how Ram could have answered all these questions. By telling episodes from his life Ram slowly reveals what he has experienced -- and, incidentally, how he came to know the answers to these particular questions.
       It's not a bad framing device, and for the most part it works surprisingly well. Some of the larger ideas in the novel -- all the way down to a dramatic final showdown over the last question -- also work quite well (and should make for a decent film version). What works less well is Ram's teeming life story: all of Dickens' books put together don't seem to contain this much misery, evil, heartbreak, retribution, and reversals (and re-reversals) of fortune. Ram isn't merely orphaned once, but several times. He has to fend for himself from a relatively early age, and every time he seems to have found a place where he is safe catastrophe strikes. From the spectacular murder-suicide of the priest who had raised him as a young child to his going to work for someone he discovers is a contract killer, there's blood and gore and danger everywhere.
       This is a book full of murders, with a couple of suicides thrown in for good measure too -- as well as additional horrific demises (death by rabies !) -- not to mention sexual violations galore, the intentional maiming of children, theft, corruption, international espionage, all -- except the last -- in numerous (it sometimes seems: countless) variations. There's also one very lucky coin ..... Ram makes some good friends and (inevitably) falls in love with a prostitute and he tries to do good and sometimes winds up doing bad (there's quite a bit of blood dripping from his hands too, by the end).
       There are many scenes from the life of the poor and their particular hard lives (the lives of the rich he encounters are hard too, just differently) and Swarup introduces all sorts of characters suffering all sorts of Indian fates. Unfortunately, the book is almost all a blur, as he only quickly recounts the stories (or rather: miseries), before hurrying off to the next episode. This book skims the surface (adroitly -- it stays afloat) and doesn't ponder any depths, murky or clear. There's some fun in all this, but it wears a bit thin after a while too. Swarup is creative in his invention, but the book is more a cartoon than anything resembling a novel.
       Swarup gamely plows ahead -- and ahead and ahead, all the way to ... well, we won't give it away, but you can guess how most things turn out. His narrator is only eighteen years old, and Swarup doesn't offer a fully convincing voice, but it's adequate for his purposes. Q & A is readable, and on some level quite entertaining -- but it's too eager and too simple and ultimately only a throwaway read.

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Q & A: Reviews: Slumdog Millionaire - the film: Vikas Swarup: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Indian literature

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About the Author:

       Indian author Vikas Swarup has served in the diplomatic service and currently works in the Ministry of External Affairs.

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© 2005-2021 the complete review

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