09 Feb / The Accidental Apprentice by Vikas Swarup
Trust me, you’re just going to have to go with the impossible premise right up front. If you need a little help, you can choose to go audible, because expert narrator Sneha Mathan will surely help you believe.
Go ahead, check your doubts: you’ll be amply rewarded by career diplomat and bestselling author Vikas Swarup, whose debut novel Q&A became the international hit film, Slumdog Millionaire, directed by Britain’s Danny Boyle. Here, in his third and latest title, Swarup is not above nodding at his previous success, in which a Bollywood star comments about the celluloid adaptation, “‘I thought it was quite good. But, because a white man made the film, our people got jealous.’” Quite the sly, clever insertion indeed.
But back to the impossible … in spite of her early academic promise, Sapna Sinha works in a Delhi electronics showroom to support her widowed mother and spoiled younger sister. She reserves her Friday afternoons for temple visits to the Goddess Durga. That Friday, December 10 (which must mean the year 2010, although that detail is not included on the page), Sapna encounters an elderly man who introduces himself as Vinay Mohan Acharya, owner of “one of India’s largest conglomerates, making everything from toothpaste to turbines”; he requests 10 minutes to explain his “proposition.” Acharya’s shocking offer seems too good to be true: “‘I would like to give you a chance to become the CEO of the ABC Group of Companies,’” he insists. “‘I am offering you the opportunity of heading a business empire worth ten billion dollars.’”
Although he manages to prove he is who he says he is, wary Sapna insists her answer is ‘no.’ Too soon – after threats of losing her home, being robbed, and desperate to provide for her mother and sister – Sapna walks into Acharya’s office. The CEO-ship is hers, Acharya explains, as long as she passes “seven tests [that] are rites of passage, designed to gauge [her] mettle and potential as CEO.”
Random events present Sapna with opportunities to pass Acharya’s “tests”: leadership comes via reuniting separated lovers, integrity by way of an engagement ring, courage via exposing child labor violations, foresight proven by exposing a lecherous blind man, resourcefulness via saving an elderly friend from her own hunger strike, and decisiveness by refusing to buy someone else’s kidney. The seventh and final test proves to be the most difficult – and perhaps impossible.
While each of the tests could stand alone as exciting adventures, Swarup seamlessly weaves in Sapna’s tragic family history, her developing relationship with her “soulmate,” and even the sibling rivalry between Acharya and his competing business mogul twin. Swarup intricately constructs one challenge after another, and confronts corruption, bribery, gender inequity, rigid social castes and customs, all the while leading up to horrific violence, shocking revelation, and a surprisingly satisfying resolution. Packaged as a heart-thumping thriller which Swarup deftly enhances with piercing social commentary, Apprentice proves to be quite the convincing combination of entertainment and enlightenment both.