79 pages 2 hours read

Vikas Swarup

Q & A

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2005

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Summary and Study Guide


The novel Q & A, by Vikas Swarup, chronicles the various misadventures of protagonist Ram Mohammad Thomas, a penniless teenager who has been arrested for answering twelve questions correctly on the TV quiz show Who Will Win a Billion? Defying conventional temporal chronologies, each chapter, connected to a question from the quiz show, helps to explain how Thomas knew the correct answer, while alsoserving as a vignette of Thomas’s life. Q & A is a comedic yet heartbreaking glimpse into the life of an orphan living in modern India. Told from first-person point of view, Swarup’s novel intimately addresses the vast divide that exists between social classes in India, as well as the often-violent division between Muslims and Hindus in contemporary Indian society. 

The prologue revolves around Thomas’s arrest for winning a billion rupees on a quiz show. He hasn’t done anything wrong, yet the producer of the quiz show has asked the police to interrogate Thomas for cheating, thinking there is no way a street kid could have known every answer correctly. It is immediately clear to the reader that the cops are bought by the rich and employed to the disadvantage of the poor—the producer promises to offer the leading interrogating officer a promotion after a successful confession from Thomas, and the officer violently tortures Thomas to get the confession. However, right before Thomas is about to confess, a woman appears claiming to be Thomas’s lawyer. She rescues Thomas from the torture and asks him to tell her the whole truth about how he knew the correct answers.

The next twelve chapters focus on Thomas’s confession to the lawyer.For each chapter, the lawyer plays a video recording thatcoincides with a question from the quiz show, and she asks Thomas to explain to her how he knew each answer. In this way, each chapter is simultaneously Thomas’s explanation for his knowledge of each answer and a glimpse into his life. The chapters don’t follow a linear timeline of Thomas’s life; rather, they jump around chronologically. 

Q & A addresses themes of class, religion, abuses of power, and sexuality. These themes are interlaced throughout the narrative, creating a story that is both comical and tragic. Though revolving around the idea of winning money on a quiz show, by the end the themes and symbols culminate into a powerful commentary on what it’s like to live a life of poverty in India.