Q&A by Vikas Swarup is the novel that served as the inspiration for Slumdog Millionaire, and after being thoroughly impressed by the film I decided that I had to read the book for myself.
I generally find myself unimpressed by the book-to-movie conversion; one or the other almost always disappoints, depending on which medium I was exposed to first. However I found the novel just as impressive as the movie, and whileI can't say that I liked the novel more (though, usually, I do prefer novels to their film incarnations) I can say that I really enjoyed them quite equally. The Q&A-to-Slumdog translation put out a product that, while retaining the fundamental and important elements of the story, deviated enough from the plot and feel of Q&A that it could be considered a different animal entirely--a relative, but not necessarily offspring of the founding novel.
But this isn't a review of Slumdog.
So I'll go back to focusing on Q&A.
Q&A is about impoverished waiter Ram Mohammad Thomas (known as Jamal Malik in Slumdog Millionaire) and his life in the slums and chawls of Mumbai and Delhi. When we first meet him, Ram Mohammad Thomas (RMT for short from here on out) is in prison on suspicion of cheating while competing on the TV game show "Who Will Win A Billion?" (a fictitious offshoot of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"). It is my personal opinion that the reader learns most of what there is to know about RMT in those first few pages that take place in theprison. Like in the movie, the questions on the game show serve as the mechanisms for the flashbacks that tell RMT's life story. Through each chronologically displaced episode we get one more piece to the puzzle and learn, in time, what has driven RMT to be on the game show in the first place.
There is no one clear genre for this novel. It is a thriller in some senses, a romance in others, and certainly a tragedy and an epic. Unlike the film, Q&A focuses much less on the love story and much more on...everything else. We get a much clearer picture of RMT's early years and the events that shaped him and his ideals. The novel is at once satisfying to the desire for a happy ending and at the same time brutally, unsettlingly honest.
Reading the novel restores protagonist Ram Mohammad Thomas/Jamal to his place as a first-person narrator and, in doing so, added on all kinds of hilarious wit and snark to the narrative that hadn't been there in the film. I love nothing btter than a snarky protagonist, and Ram Mohammad Thomas's voice is especially well-written. It forced a wide range of emotional reactions; I laughed a lot, got angry frequently. If I were the type to cry during books, I might've cried. The story comes in wide, sweeping arcs that make the book easy to devour in just one sitting and impossible to tear yourself away from.
As an Indian-American woman, I love Q&A for its honesty and its frank portrayal of India, complete with all of her strengths and weaknesses. There is so much that is wrong with India. But, at the same time, there is so much that is right.
I recommend this as a 12+ book, with a warning for language, violence, and mild sexual content. (But I still think everyone should read it!)