Sunday, October 19, 2014

Book Review- Slumdog Millionaire by Vikas Swarup


There is no way an unschooled, 18-year-old orphan who works as a waiter could win the top prize on Who Will Win a Billion, Mumbai’s popular quiz show.

Ram Mohammad Thomas is such a person, and he’s won, answering all twelve questions correctly. But now, not long after the show has been taped, Ram has been arrested. The show’s producers are convinced it is impossible for him to win. He’s cheated, somehow. Only a mysterious lawyer, who Ram has never seen before, comes to his rescue. Ram tells her all about his life, how the experiences he’s had have given him the answers to the quiz’s questions. Life and a fair amount of luck have turned a penniless waiter into India’s first top prize-winner.

But will he be able to keep his winnings?

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from

I have been arrested. For winning a quiz show…

Vikas Swarup’s spectacular debut novel opens in a jail cell in Mumbai, India, where Ram Mohammad Thomas is being held after correctly answering all twelve questions on India’s biggest quiz show, Who Will Win a Billion? It is hard to believe that a poor orphan who has never read a newspaper or gone to school could win such a contest. But through a series of exhilarating tales Ram explains to his lawyer how episodes in his life gave him the answer to each question.

Ram takes us on an amazing review of his own history — from the day he was found as a baby in the clothes donation box of a Delhi church to his employment by a faded Bollywood star to his adventure with a security-crazed Australian army colonel to his career as an overly creative tour guide at the Taj Mahal.


Surely we all remember Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Imagine what you could do with that money. In the wake of Millionaire, Mumbai has brought on W3B, their own show with an even larger prize, one billion rupees. It was so easy to get behind players in Millionaire, to be amazed at the random knowledge in the contestants’ heads and see if they knew enough odd facts to get them the top prize. It’s the same with W3B. The questions are random, and it doesn’t exactly take formal schooling to know some of this trivia. Following in Ram’s life in a modern world, seeing how experience is its own form of education, is an amazing journey.


I listened to Slumdog Millionaire through Audible. It’s an experience well worth the time. Swarup’s writing style is very easy to listen to and follow, and the chapter breakdown— being question by question (1,000 Rupees; 10,000 Rupees; etc.)— is perfect for how the story is told. The chapter format has Ram telling the part of his life that gave him the answer to the quiz question, but you don’t actually get a glimpse of the quiz show— or learn what the question actually was— until he’s done telling his story. This was brilliant. By the time I was up to the second question, I was pondering each story of Ram’s life, trying to guess what the trivia question might end up being based on what I was hearing. I was wrong almost every time, but it wasn’t upsetting. This, to me, was a huge bonus point to the author. I was completely drawn in, and as much as I thought the show itself would be the most intriguing part of the story for me, it wasn’t. Ram’s life was a wonder, the telling was exciting while not being overly complicated, and I was hooked. Just the style of Ram’s voice, when he’s telling his past, is straightforward and clear. Even though his life jumps around with each question, I never really lost track of the timeline itself. It was masterfully done.

My Thoughts

Slumdog Millionaire is a quick read (the Audible recording is just over ten hours) and if I’d been actually reading it, I think it’s one that I would have been frustrated having to put down. As it was, I listened to it in its entirety in a single day at work. I usually listen at double speed, but I start at normal speed just to make sure I can follow everything well. The fact that the story is set in India, a place I’ve never been, with a culture I’m only minutely familiar with, I didn’t feel lost. I was swept away. No, I don’t think I could go there and make sense of anything, but for the time I spent there with Ram, I belonged in that world. What culture shock I had was surprisingly unimportant. I suppose you could argue that the story could happen anywhere, but I honestly think the setting was perfect for the tale Swarup was telling. I honestly cannot imagine this story set in America.

There is so much tying Ram’s past to his present life during and after the taping of the show, that I have to give great commendation to the author. Swarup left no loose ends, even wrapping up one that I hadn’t really thought of as being a loose end. He brings characters you think are somewhat inconsequential, or ones that walk into and out of Ram’s life, back into his adult life from his childhood in ways that are both surprising and satisfying. The questions for the quiz are great, and seeing the behind the scenes filming of the quiz show was enough to make me giddy while still making me hate the show’s producers for how they look down on Ram. Swarup has created an amazing character with a huge heart, one that you cannot help but sympathize with, even when he makes wrong or poor decisions. It’s easy to understand Ram without having to be dragged through his every thought process. On the whole, this is just an amazing, well thought-out novel that is pulled off well in the writing.

Would I Recommend This Book? Most definitely! It’s a highly engrossing read that will get you involved very quickly, and it is not a particularly hefty book. It’s just long enough for what it wants to say, and believe me, it has plenty to say. There’s so much fun in the book, especially when you get to the quiz questions. It’s almost like having a study guide, trying to see if you paid enough attention to Ram’s life to know the answers before he gives his answer. Or, like me, to guess what the question might be before it’s read. I give Slumdog Millionaire a rupee-winning 5 out of 5 stars.

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