Even though Ram Mohammad Thomas correctly answers all 12 questions on the new Indian game show Who Will Win a Billion? he doesn't get the jackpot. Instead, he gets arrested. Unable to pay the prize money, the show's producers set out to prove that he cheated, since they believe there is no way an uneducated street boy who had never been to school or even read a newspaper could have legitimately won the grand prize.
But Ram has not cheated. Though he never had any sort of formal education, he learned a great deal from the school of hard knocks. To prove his innocence, Ram explains to his lawyer how the unusual and unbelievable events from his turbulent life have equipped him with all the right answers.
The debut novel of Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup, Q&A presents each of the 12 questions (neatly dealt with one at a time in the 12 chapters of the book) alongside the episode in Ram's life which explains how he knew the correct response. A stint as an extremely imaginative tour guide at the Taj Mahal accounts for his knowledge about a piece of obscure historical trivia. A mugging on a train (and the up-close view of the gun Ram gets as he struggles to wrestle the weapon from the burglar) is the reason he can correctly identify Samuel Colt as the inventor of the revolver.
The events in Ram's amazing life are hard to believe. Yet, set against the colorful backdrop of modern India, they start to seem increasingly plausible while still no less extraordinary. Filled with a unique combination of humor, suspense and social commentary, Q&A is a fast-paced read which will leave you satisfyingly stunned.
Readers will root enthusiastically for Ram as he seeks to claim his fortune. And they will consider themselves winners after spending time in the world of this very rich tale.
Iris Blasi is a writer in New York City.