The First Trillionaire

by Sapna Jha, translated by Alok Jha

Read this in about 9 minutes

I’d come across this title back in 2016 when I chanced upon the site about the “Most compelling read of 2016”. When I was one among the winners of the Goodreads Giveaway of this book, I was overjoyed! While I waited for the book, I went through the reviews of the book on Goodreads. At the time of checking, the book had 270 five-star ratings, out of 274. Unbelievable, but true.

Sure enough, after some days of eagerly waiting, I received the book, and I started reading it. And the journey began.

Cover: The First Trillionaire

Cover page

The cover page was different from what I saw on perhaps Google Plus. The new cover is an image of an urban-looking girl surrounded by bank notes (2000-rupee “specimens”, too), and two strips running across as though they were the “Crime scene; do not cross” tapes, albeit with the text, “The First Trillionai₹e”. The authors’ names could’ve been more prominent.

Not one of the most thrilling covers, I had to admit. But let’s not judge the book just by its cover.

Characters

The story primarily revolves around Shail, the protagonist, of course. In scenes where the protagonist is absent, the focus promptly shifts to the other important characters. The other important characters are delved into to some extent (I’m not going to mention the names to avoid spoilers). However, some of the characters, such as Olivia and Kran could’ve done with some more depth rather than just description—to make the reader have the feeling of knowing them.

The authors have attempted to bring some depth in a few other characters such as the rescue team members, with some description added about their lives, dedicating individual chapters to them. But somehow, the attempt feels half-hearted. But again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It seems like an honest attempt.

Content

Well begun is half done. The story begins well.

We’ve seen books adapted into movies; this was the other way around: a Bollywood action flick made into a book. What I liked the most about the first half of the book is how it portrays the awkwardness of a teenage crush. But what’s Bollywood-ish about it is how the boy shows no interest in the girl. That makes the romance part of it. But don’t be disappointed; it’s a full package. There’s action, and then of course, drama!

If I have to save my child then I have to win a world war.

Let’s take a look at another.

‘Vaishno Mata will definitely let me ride a scooty very soon.’

Some girls shook their heads and beckoned her along…

By the time they went downstairs, a girl in a very formal dress approached her.

‘Madam, your scooty is here. I will teach you how to ride, and in an hour you will get a learner’s license if you feel ready…’

‘Madam, you and your friends can accompany us in the limousine waiting outside. It can accommodate you all, and if the need arises, we have a spare one standing outside,’ the formal suited girl continued.

Language

I kept in mind that this was a translated work; the work was translated from Hindi. I could understand the language because I know Hindi (any Indian language would work for that matter). It’s not a bad thing at all, if you’re looking at an Indian audience. However, from the use of USD as the currency and all, it seems the target audience is international. In that case, the book should’ve looked less like a literal translation from Hindi.

Run as fast as you can and tell Gopal to come here with Dr Narayan. And also go and tell Mr Singh to come here. He stays next to me.

And then, there were some like this, which I didn’t know what to make of:

Her injured leg was fitted with a contraption which not only fastened her but also could carry all the weapons she needed.

Really? “Fastened her”?

Also, it looked like the author has tried to take the easy way out at some very important places, which I did not like.

All the high-tech medical treatment of Henna was done under the guidance of a crazy doctor who served on the Healthcare Committees of Jamal working for handicapped people.

“Crazy doctor”; what a convenient stereotype!

There were also some strong commerce jargons, including referring to companies as “M/S So-and-So” in a conversation. I don’t know if this is the beginning of a new trend. Also, I felt that the book assumes knowledge of banking terms and practices on the reader’s part. May my ignorance be pardoned, I had to Google some of the things mentioned in the book.

But what annoyed me was that many sentences in the book failed in basic grammar: wrong punctuations, wrong use of conjunctions (sometimes even wrong conjunctions), tense mix-up… I was surprised it even cleared the front desk before printing.

Recently, investigators found out that Musa’s Dubai-based company, Al Jamal Diamonds, is a front for his illegal trade in blood diamonds. ‘On each trip, diamonds worth around $5–10 lakh are smuggled into Dubai and the African courier is paid $10, 000 as his courier fee,’ as per the report.

My high school grammar class tells me, there are at least three errors in the quoted text.

I should’ve probably picked the Hindi version of the book.

Good points

To someone who grew up reading the likes of Champak, this book would be a memory refresher. The language has a “homely narrative” feel to it—the kind that reminds you of your granny. While as an adult I felt I’d outgrown the liking for such narratives, the child in me—who loved Champak and Tinkle—liked this aspect of the book.

In some places, the word patterns seem feminine. I think that’s a good thing—the author’s attempt to retain the feel of how the author of the original work (Mrs Sapna Jha in this case) wrote it.

Bad points

Do not take readers for granted.

This is where you bring yourself a cup of coffee.

Bollywood masala should never be converted into a book in the first place; it’s a disgrace to the art of writing.

The technical aspects of a story are important. Therefore, use of Transformers-like contraptions must have a basis much stronger than “crazy doctor”.

Spoiler alert:

People cannot simply walk into the sanctum of a famous temple like Somnath. I grew up near Somnath. I know one cannot walk into the place as simply as portrayed in the book. There are snipers stationed at the temple. Please visit the place once; do some groundwork. Also, expect chaos if you have people running into the temple with blood, gore and guns.

Spoiler-free zone:

The book could use some (read: at least two rounds each, of basic and substantive) editing.

It felt as though the manuscript was simply printed. Verbatim. There’s no uniformity in the visual language. In some places, a scene break is shown using a blank line (which is confusing, given the paragraph separation style chosen), while in others, there are three asterisks (which should’ve been followed throughout, in their case). The book follows no specific style: dialogues are in single quotes (which is a British English feature), but then, commas appear within the quotes even when they’re not part of the speech (which is mostly an American English feature). And no, mixing them is not Indian English.

Characters’ conversations with themselves are not differentiated from narration; these lead to confusion, and deteriorate the reading experience.

Inter-word spaces are missing in many places. Even the most basic word processing software can identify these errors!

Chapter names are supposed to appetise the reader, not seem like the author’s notes on their storyboard.

And then there’s typography.

It’s a book; show some respect.

Today, book typography is conveniently—and blatantly—ignored. This book is probably the greatest testimony to that.

It seems as though the publishing house simply fired up Word 1993, copy-pasted the contents of the manuscript, ran a cursory spelling and grammar check (finishing the process in precisely three minutes), changed the body font to a random font that was available on www.1001freefonts.com, without even checking the character spacing… did everything that should not be done to a book, including taking the time to format the chapter title in a bold, all-caps, sans-serif font. Why, just why?

And then there’s more:

  • Text justification is turned on without hyphenation, thereby making the word spacing (horrendously) uneven.
  • The text is sagging—the top margin is more than the bottom one which has the page number crammed in it.
  • The text blocks on the spread don’t align. I’m guessing this is because Word decided to avoid widows and orphans by forcing content to the next pages.
  • There’s emphasis like this, and then, there’s emphasis on emphasis like this. I suddenly felt I was reading a government circular, where they were very generous in the use of the bold and italics formatting controls. Luckily, there was no situation warranting an underline for further emphasis, or a LITTLE MORE.
  • There’s so much more, but I don’t want to sound like a picky grandpa. I’ll stop by saying, ‘It’s a book; show some respect.’

Sample from The First Trillionaire

Overall

Abysmal. Amateur.

I see that this review is just the opposite of what seems to be common perspective, but I promised the author an honest review; I’m keeping my word.

Looking at the high ratings, and going through reviews on various other sites, I felt that Harper Lee had reincarnated. But now I have just lost the little hope I had on the longevity of the world of literature. Goodreads has perhaps done its part in fixing the ratings—I see only some 40 ratings now.

Whom do I recommend this to

Nobody.

Nobody, yet. This book has to go through a round of drastic corrections before it can be considered a professional publication. I truly understand a first-time-writer’s issues, but this is just sloppy work. It’s a betrayal of a reader’s trust. I’d expect a second edition of the book.

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Ram Iyer

Writer, PowerShell addict, typographer, self-acclaimed rationalist.

Bangalore, KA ramiyer.me