2011 Commonwealth Writer's Prize

The Book of Answers by C. Y. Gopinath

The Book of Answers Shortlisted for 2012 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize

Five words from the blurb: India, satire, world, problems, society

The Book of Answers is a clever satire of society. It shows how willing people are to look for the easy answer to their problems and how politicians can be made to believe anything if it helps their career.

The book begins with Patros, an ordinary Indian man, inheriting a mysterious metal box. This box is said to hold a book containing answers to all the world’s problems.  The responsibility of owning this object becomes too much for Patros so he sells it, only to see it turn up in the hands of a godman a few months later. This godman soon finds himself advising the top politicians in the land. The only problem is that Patros knows the key to the box is hidden in Kerala, so the godman must be inventing every one of his ideas.

I often struggle with political satire, especially ones that originate from other countries, because I don’t know enough about the political parties involved. This wasn’t the case for The Book of Answers and I think this is because it can be seen as a parody of governments in general, rather than of a specific regime. The blind faith that officials put in their advisers can also be seen in many large companies and so I think this book will appeal to people whether they have an interest in politics or not.

The main joy of this book is the large number of cleverly formed ideas. In many ways it reminded me of The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung, a book containing many ideas that sound ridiculous, but turn out to have happened already. I don’t think that any of ideas in The Book of Answers have been implemented yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the less controversial ones were debated in the next few years. 

“We’ve been googling since early 2000. Today’s rules are different. You don’t have to know anything any more; you only have to know where to find it.” The Mahajan Commission recommended a more “user-friendly” approach, named Ambient Solution-Seeking or ASS. Answers to all exam questions would be in the Head Clerk’s safe, one set per examinee in sealed envelopes. To receive his envelope, each student had to find his key question – What is the capital of Nauru? What is the difference between manzanilla and manzanita? and so on. These quiz questions, written on chits of thick paper and inscribed with the target student’s name, were hidden in choice venues around the examination hall: behind toilet cisterns; within the sand in cuspidors; below the Head Clerk’s paperweight; inside vacuum-sealed packets of wafers; and within the paper cones in which peanuts are sold outside college gates. The student resourceful enough to find his key question and answer it correctly would receive the answers envelope from the head clerk and sail through the exams.

Sometimes the jokes were quite subtle and I’m sure this book would benefit from a re-read to pick up on everything.

This book wasn’t perfect – it lost some of its narrative drive in the middle and could have done with some editing to make the transition between some of the scenes smoother, but on the whole it was an enjoyable, entertaining read.

Recommended to anyone looking for something a little bit different!


Unfortunately this book isn’t published in the UK/US. I was lucky enough to receive an e-copy from the author, but it is possible to download it from Smashwords or Amazon.

The thoughts of other bloggers:

…a thoroughly readable and thought-provoking book. Eleutherophobia

Behind the humour, there is a very serious message about the nature of power corrupting and the inability of democracy…. Tony’s Reading List

This book reminded me partly of Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian, The Parrish Lantern


8 replies on “The Book of Answers by C. Y. Gopinath”

parrish, I agree – this is a great alternative beach read. Light and easy to read, but with loads of great ideas that you can bounce off your friends.

I’m so glad for the review. 4 stars. Was hoping it would be a positive one. “…something a little bit different”! That is so me. Will download the rest of the book.

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