Slumdog Millionaire – Vikas Swarup

I admit to only learning of this book when the movie came out.  Owing to my psychotic need to read the book before seeing the movie I needed to read it before I take the two hours to watch the movie.  I find, and nothing demonstrates this better than Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire, that your understanding of the movie can be greatly enhanced by first reading the book.  Filmmakers in general tend to be more irresponsible when it comes to storytelling than writers are.  it seems that filmmakers are more worried about splashy and dazzling effects than they are about ensuring their plot threads are tied up  But enough of that rant, let me tell you about this novel.


This is one of the few novels I have read that takes place in modern day India.  Assuming it is an accurate portrayal (and I have no reason to think it is not) of life there it illuminates the differences between Canada, where I live, and other parts of the world.  Racism is obviously still prevalent, as is poverty.  There are some here in North America who live below the poverty line but they are not scrounging for food like far too many in other parts of the world.


I haven’t read enough of Joseph Campbell’s A Hero With A Thousand Faces to compare the main character, Ram Mohammed Thomas to other types of characters, but I do notice that there are certain patterns that I see emerging.  For one thing, he tends to be self-sacrificing.  Would we like a selfish character a lot?  I would say no, which then leads to having a self-sacrificing character.  We do see numerous demonstrations of how hard Ram works, both before and after the murder of his foster father.  From a young age he has to support himself, but also his friend Salim.


Money, though it tends to be the one focus of Thomas’s young life, tends to be the thing he finds most fleeting.  Swarup makes the point that Ram freely gives money away when he is working as a tour guide at the Taj Mahal.  He has wages stolen from him as well as he is traveling from Delhi to Mumbai.  It is not for this reason that he kills the dacoit though, but rather he shoots the robber because of his disrespect for one of the young female passengers.  Again, I think that this is one of the traits of a hero.


I don’t want to give away the end of the novel, for it has a bit of a twist that, I admit, I did not foresee coming, but what I will say is that I love how the novel was formatted and how it turned out.   We know from the outset that Thomas wins 1 Billion rupees, but there is more to his reason for entering the contest in the first place  Money is all well and good, but it is not the driving factor in Thomas’s life.


Prejudice and racism can blind us, that is for sure.  Constantly throughout the novel we hear phrases like “you bloody Indians” or poor idiot orphan.  In fact, in the prologue the police interrogators assume that Thomas does not even know how to speak English.  In truth we learn that he does and that he might not be an educated man in the traditional sense of the word, he certainly has learned to deal with people in a much more humane way than people deal with him.  That, dear readers, is a true man, Indian or not!


A theme from this book that I love does in fact deal with money:  it can be the root of all evil or the source of so much happiness.  It all depends on how you use it.


If the movie is half as good as the book than I will fully support its winning the Academy Award.


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