Thursday, October 20, 2005

Q & A


Q & A, written by an Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup, has a very interesting plot. As the book opens, Ram Mohammad Thomas(yes, you do learn the story behind the strange name), a waiter, is arrested by the police from the slums in Mumbai. He recently won the top prize in W3B, a Kaun Banega Crorepathi-like quiz show with an even bigger, 1 Billion Rupees top prize. The producers, not ready to part with that kind of money, have Ram arrested since the uneducated boy could not have known the answers to all the questions and hence should have cheated. Ram is saved by a lawyer Smita Shah who then asks him to confide in her about how he got all the answers correctly. As Ram proceeds to recount past incidents from his very interesting life, Smita slowly begins to understand how he knew the answers to all the questions on the show.

In a way, Q & A, is constructed like The Five People You Meet in Heaven. In each chapter, we go back to a segment of Ram’s life and understand how the knowledge he gained in that segment helped him answer a particular question. The individual segments are interesting and span a wide array of topics like war, cricket, gambling, Bollywood and even contract killing. They are very different from one another and are never boring. So the book holds our interest and is a quick read. But sometimes, the frequent jumps back and forth do get a bit disorienting as we try to keep track of the timeline and the chronology of the events gets a little confusing.

The book is definitely not a pleasant read. Since Ram is from a poor section of society, his life has not been a bed of roses and his experiences reflect that harsh reality. There are unsavory incidents and characters in almost every chapter and by the time we finish the book, we have read about things like rape, incest attempt, suicide, physical and sexual abuse of children, and war atrocities. Some of these incidents are moving while others leave a bad taste in the mouth. There is a happy end to many of the unpleasant things but that doesn’t help dispel your feelings when you are reading them.

Vikas gets into James Patterson mode towards the end, throwing one twist after another at us. I usually like twists in a book but while the first twist here is good, the second seems like overkill. It is just a little too convenient. Both took me by surprise though.

Vikas’ writing is quite simplistic. If this is intentional (the narrator is after all, an uneducated waiter) or his innate writing style, I don’t know. But the literary flow that I expect from a novel is somehow missing. The metaphors seem forced and the novel is written in a very raw, conversational style. It is kinda tough to explain and so, let me say here what I told my friend. If someone told me the story of Q & A and asked me to turn it into a book, I can envision writing a book like this. On the other hand, even if someone told me the story of The Kite Runner and asked me to pen it, the resulting book wouldn’t be a patch on Khaled Hosseini’s book.

PS: Thanks Faffer for the pointer

14 Comments:

At 10:30 PM, Blogger Narayanan Venkitu said...

Interesting...would like to read..but no time.

I want to ask you this..How do you find time to read all this?? I guess you also have a 24 like all of us?

And BTW, where did you get this book?? Or is it from the library

 
At 11:45 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

narayanan, LOL. i've found that time expands to accomodate what i need to do :) but i do miss my sleep!

i picked this up from the santa clara city library.

 
At 8:10 AM, Blogger Rama said...

wow!The character name itself makes the story interesting i guess :)

 
At 9:30 AM, Blogger Munimma said...

Narayanan sir, Another way to get your daily dose is through audio tapes. I play them in the car or when cooking or working out.
I was wondering if this is a must read. I guess not really. I just finished 5 people... What an awesome book! Not just the story, but a smooth flow and an interesting style too. I am forced to read his tuesdays...
Kiterunner is on my tbr list.
I have secret life of bees sitting at home, waiting for a lull between murder mysteries :-)
Just finished a gaslight mystery by V. Thompson.
too many books, too little time!!!

 
At 9:32 AM, Blogger Munimma said...

btw, just saw this news. interesting for some of us Kamal fans

http://www.behindwoods.com/features/News/News34/21-10-05e/tamil-movies-news-kamal.html

 
At 10:31 AM, Anonymous ram said...

bb, romba kovams of america enakku unge maela...embuttu naalla "oru kaediyin diary" padikka sollitruken...adha marandhuttiye maapoo!

seri, waiting for the Friday Jumble...

 
At 10:41 AM, Blogger mitr_bayarea said...

balaji:Thanks for the nice summary-I am looking for books for my next reading and maybe i will pick this one up if its available in Sunnyvale library.

FYI-I recently bought Amartya Sen's "The Argumentative Indian", haven't started reading it though. But, the reviews on the book and content material was good, so went ahead and bought it.

 
At 10:54 AM, Anonymous vijay said...

Lost the book-reading habit long time back in college. I envy those who have enough patience, peace of mind and time in their lives to still read books in this fast world:-)Reading books not only requires just time, but it needs a relaxed frame of mind as well and a certain amount of perseverance unlike listening to music/watching a movie which provide instant gratification.

Munimma , how do listening to audio books while driving work ? Especially, if you are listening to some heavy stuff. I cannot serve 2 masters. Listening to music while driving is distracting enough.

 
At 1:13 PM, Blogger Munimma said...

vijay, you don't listen to music and an audio book at the same time ;-)

Seriously, it is quite enjoyable, especially if you have to drive on the interstate. If you can't focus on a book, then may be you need a different kind of book. Reading is something that should never be lost :-) Even if you can read only short stories - Try O'Henry or PGWodehouse or humor themed ones. A book is a book is a book. Just find your niche.

 
At 3:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems like it's not so interesting
as I imagnied, but all this may be present in indian prospective. Will definetely read after my D-code, A&D, digital fortress, catch-22.

 
At 11:24 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

vijay, funny u talk about 'instant gratification' cos that was exactly what i said in an earlier post when talking about why i couldnt read serialized novels in magazines. i said books provide 'instant gratification' cos an end was waiting as long as we were willing to turn the pages :)

 
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