Vikas Swarup presented a sneak preview of his next novel, “The Accidental Apprentice,” to the Japan Writers Conference in Kyoto yesterday (Nov. 10, 2012). The book will be published in Janaury.
Swarup’s previous novels are “Q&A” (the basis of the movie “Slumdog Millionaire”) and “Six Suspects” (which Swarup mentioned is also in the process of becoming a film).
Swarup, appearing at the Japan Writers Conference for a third consecutive year, gave a reading of the opening pages of “The Accidental Apprentice” before taking questions from conference-goers.
It begins with a young Indian woman named Sapna Sinha sitting in a jail cell, reflecting on how she came to be accused of murder. She traces her troubles back to the day when, on a lunch break from her sales job at an electronics store, she visited a temple seeking expiation over a death for which she feels responsible. (It sounded as if this was not the death that led to her murder charge, but presumably all will be made clear as the novel unfolds.) At the temple, an old man plucked her out of the crowd, introduced himself as a fabulously wealthy industrialist whose companies produce everything “from toothpaste to turbines,” and said he wanted to recruit Sapna as his heir — if she would agree to undergo seven tests. It sounded like a fishy deal, so Sapna sensibly refused. At least, she refused at first…
In the question-and-answer period after the reading, Swarup said he believes it is important to start a story with a strong hook, so readers will stick around to see what happens.
In addition to being a best-selling novelist, Swarup is also the consul-general of India for the Osaka-Kobe area. He therefore referred to himself as a “weekend writer” whose day job keeps him too busy to write during the week. But he cheerily remarked that having a non-writing career freed him from some of the concerns that likely burden full-time fiction writers, such as meeting deadlines or trying to guess the tastes of the market.
All three of his novels so far have been set in India. He said that people in this country sometimes ask why he doesn’t write about Japan. He tells them that if he did, his stories would be all about yakuza gangsters — and his Japanese friends might not like that. But his characters couldn’t be ordinary Japanese people, he says, because they are too nice, calm, polite and orderly to write exciting stories about them.
Spoken like a true diplomat.