Thursday, April 23, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire (originally published as Q&A)
By Vikas Swarup
Scribner, 2008. 313 pgs. Fiction

In this famous, debut novel that sparked the recent Oscar hit, the story of Ram Mohammad Thomas begins in a jail cell. And what crime did this uneducated, teenage orphan commit?--merely the unspeakable horror of being too smart. After answering every question correctly, he wins the billion dollar jackpot on Who Will Win a Billion?, the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. Because he's had no formal education Ram’s accused of cheating and thrust in jail. When an unknown lawyer jumps to his rescue she coerces him to tell her the truth.

His response is simple…Life Experience. Each chapter flashes back to a segment in Ram’s past—with the answer to the quiz show questions woven so skillfully into the dismal fabric of his life that the entire production seems a gift from the gods to make up for his miserable childhood.

It might seem too good to be true, but in this unique ‘rags to riches’ tale the story is both engrossing and repulsive as Swarup details the horrors found in the poverty stricken slums of Mumbai. Skillfully written, Vikas Swarup is the Indian reincarnation of Charles Dickens--with a bit more grit. Although a dark presentation, with the forces of Karma at work in Ram’s life, everyone--be it good or evil--gets what they deserve in the end. What a beautiful thought. Recommended if you can handle the unpleasant reality.


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