The Accidental Apprentice by Vikas Swarup

Readers approach novels and literature for numerous reasons. Some want a story that sweeps them off their feet to a magical place; one unlike the one they are currently living in. Others enjoy the allegorical tales they tell. Novels and stories with bigger meaning, important themes and allegorical themes have been loved by readers for many years. Animal Farm by George Orwell and The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis are two of the most beloved pieces of literature of all time; both tell a story in the form of an allegory which aims to tell a hidden story in its narrative. The Accidental Apprentice is the third novel by Vikas Swarup, author of Q&A (original source material for Slumdog Millionaire), which uses loose forms of allegories to tell stories about various forms of corruption in modern day India.

The story is told in a form of seven tests, given to the main character named Sapna Sinha. She is a normal salesgirl at one of India’s many electronics shops when she is approached one day by a man named Vinay Mohan Acharya, supposed head board member in charge of the ABC Group which is an Indian conglomerate that makes an infinite amount of products. Vinay offers to Sapna, if she can past his seven tests that he will make her the CEO of the ABC Group, which comes with a multimillion dollar yearly salary. Sapna is reluctant to initially agree to this “lottery ticket scheme” as she dubs it, but eventually does as Vinay offers her an upfront payment that she needs to help secure housing for her family for the next year. Once she has agreed to be a part of Vinay’s testing, Sapna starts running into life problems that she must solve. First she is sent out to a remote village to help the people living there set up their electronics they bought through the store that she works at. However while she is there she finds out there is an arranged marriage taking place; one in which the bride wants nothing to with the groom. She helps the bride out of the difficult situation and when she returns home she is greeted with a pat on the back by Vinay telling her she did the right thing. Again later she is thrown into a situation where she discovers a lock making factory near her home that is employing children in poor work conditions. These are just examples of the seven tests she takes part in, seemingly just part of her normal life. Vinay just claims that every time Sapna does the right thing and helps the problem along to it’s proper solution that she did the right thing; showing traits that a CEO of a conglomerate will need.

The Accidental Apprentice can be seen as a thriller of sorts, though it’s more so literature about a girl facing problems with Indian corruption. Sapna is a pretty interesting character with a rather developed backstory that spans the entirety of the novel. Swarup writes in other characters too that make the story all the more interesting with their additions. The writing itself is incredibly free flowing and very easy to read; this is a novel that can easily be read in an afternoon. That said, while the novel is a bit of a thriller, it only turns that corner in the last fifty pages or so. Prior to that, it’s really just page after page of Sapna running into problems with corruption and prevailing over them, making it look like she’s the champion of life. She does run into roadblocks at times, but she seems to be able to solve these tests far too easily at times. Swarup however did use this opportunity to weave an incredibly clever tale, one that reveals itself only at the very end.

To someone that loves literature about India or maybe wants to delve into the world of New Delhi and Mumbai, this is the perfect segue. The Accident Apprentice is a novel completely enriched by its setting. The story takes place all over the country, from remote villages to the slums to the middle class and millionaire sectors of the country. Swarup includes many things Indian, making this a very culturally rich novel with references to clothing, traditions and even descriptions of geographic locations. It succeeds in telling an allegorical tale about Indian corruption, with an intermingling of the suspense and thriller genres. Vikas Swarup has once again succeeded in telling a tale of India, redemption and the trials of life.

Rating: 7 out of 10 – While The Accidental Apprentice is a fine novel that tells a tale about a simple salesgirl finding justice among her country’s mass corruption, it falls short in thrill. Parts of the story are exciting, but the closing of the novel is really the only part that will keep the reader wide eyed and on the edge of their seat.

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