Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2005
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*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
**      = Enjoyable
*        = Good, with reservations


*****Q & A

by Vikas Swarup

Reviewed August 27, 2005.
Scribner, New York, 2005.  318 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (MCN F SWA).
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2005 (#1, Literary Fiction)

I found this first novel to be wonderfully clever, well-crafted, and enjoyable in every way.

Ram Mohammed Thomas, with a name reflecting three of India’s major religions, is in jail for winning a billion rupees on a quiz show.  He is a poor orphan, who works as a waiter.  He has never read a newspaper.  He doesn’t know who is the President of the United States or the name of the capital of France.  Surely he must have cheated to be able to answer all twelve obscure questions correctly.

The book continues as Mr. Thomas tells his lawyer stories from his life—showing how his unique life experiences happened to give him exactly the information he needed.  The stories are told in the order of the questions, which, naturally enough, don’t go in the chronological order of his life.  The order of the stories actually builds our curiosity, and when he fills in details, we’re excited to learn the missing part of the story.

His eighteen years of life have been eventful, including brushes with murders, robberies, and great turns of fortune.

I’ve read in a writer’s magazine that writers should never use coincidence to solve their character’s problems.  However, it’s a fine thing to use coincidence to get them into trouble.  This novel would be irritating and unbelievable if the author told us Ram Mohammed Thomas’ amazing life story and then had him go on a quiz show and get asked exactly the questions he could answer, all relating to his past.  Instead, the coincidence of the questions he could answer is what gets him into trouble in the first place, and readers are delighted by how the questions unfold, instead of skeptical.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this principle illustrated so well.

This isn’t a weighty book.  It’s an adventure story with a clever premise.  There are some unpleasant situations portrayed.  But all in all, it’s a picture of a good-hearted orphan boy who gets through some extreme life circumstances and comes out ahead.  Highly enjoyable reading.

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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