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Sacred Games: A Novel (P.S.) Paperback – December 18, 2007
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There are more than a half-dozen subplots to be enjoyed, but the main events take place between Inspector Sartaj Singh, a Sikh member of the Mumbai police force, and Ganesh Gaitonde, the most wanted gangster in India. It is no accident that Ganesh is named for the Hindu god of success, the elephant god much revered by Hindus everywhere. By the world's standards he has made a huge success of his life: he has everything he wants. But soon after the novel begins he is holed up in a bomb shelter from which there is no escape, and Sartaj is right outside the door. Ganesh and Sartaj trade barbs, discuss the meaning of good and evil, hold desultory conversations alternating with heated exchanges, and, finally, Singh bulldozes the building to the ground. He finds Ganesh dead of a gunshot wound, and an unknown woman dead in the bunker along with him.
How did it come to this? Of course, Singh has wanted to capture this prize for years, but why now and why in this way? The chapters that follow tell both their stories, but especially chronicle Gaitonde's rise to power. He is a clever devil, to be sure, and his tales are as captivating as those of Scheherezade. Like her he spins them out one by one and often saves part of the story for the reader--or Sartaj--to figure out. He is involved in every racket in India, corrupt to the core, but even he is afraid of Swami Shridlar Shukla, his Hindu guru and adviser. In the story Gaitonde shares with Singh and countless other characters, Vikram Chandra has written a fabulous tale of treachery, a thriller, and a tour of the mean streets of India, complete with street slang. --Valerie Ryan
Questions for Vikram Chandra
After writing his first two, critically acclaimed books, Red Earth and Pouring Rain and Love and Longing in Bombay, Vikram Chandra set off on what became, seven years later, an epic story of crime and punishment in modern Mumbai, Sacred Games. Chandra splits his time between Berkeley, where he teaches at the University of California, and Mumbai, the vast city that becomes a character in its own right in Sacred Games. We asked him a few questions about his new book.
Amazon.com: Did you imagine your book would become such an epic when you began it?
Vikram Chandra: No, not at all. When I began, I imagined a conventional crime story which began with a dead body or two, proceeded along a linear path, and ended 300 pages later with a neatly-wrapped solution. But when I began to actually investigate the particular kind of crime that I was interested in, a series of connections revealed themselves. Organized crime is of course connected to politics, both local and national, but if you're interested in political activity in India today--and elsewhere in the world--you are of course going to have to address the role of religion. These realms, in turn, intersect with the workings of the film and television industries. And all of this exists within the context of the "Great Game," the struggle between nation-states for power and dominance; some of the criminal organizations have mutually-beneficial relationships with intelligence agencies. So, I became really interested in this mesh of interlocking lives and organizations and historical forces. I began to trace how ordinary people were thrown about and forced to make choices by events and actors very far away; how disparate lives can cross each other--sometimes unknowingly--and change profoundly as a result. The form of the novel grew from this thematic interest, in an attempt to form a representation of this intricate web. The reader will, I hope, by the end of the novel see how the connections fall together and weave through each other. The individual characters, of course, see only a fragmented, partial version of this whole.
Amazon.com: You interviewed many gangsters, high and low, to research your story. How did you get introductions to them? What did they think of someone writing their life?
Chandra: When I was writing my last book, Love and Longing in Bombay (in which Sartaj Singh first appears), I had contacted some police officers and crime journalists. I stayed in touch with a few of them, and when I began to think seriously about this project I asked them to introduce me to anyone who could tell me something about organized crime. Amongst the people I met in this way were some people from the "underworld," which turns out not to be an underworld at all. It's the same world we live in, inhabited by human beings who are very much like the rest of us, even in their distinctiveness. For the most part, they were as curious about me and what I was doing as I was about them. They're not big novel readers, but they had very certain opinions about representations of their lives they had seen on the big screen: "Such-and-such film got it all wrong"--they would tell me--"don't do that." And, "This was correct, that was not." So I listened, and I hope I got it mostly right.
Amazon.com: For most American readers--like me--your story is full of slang and cultural references that we can't hope to follow. For me that's part of the charm--I feel like I'm immersed in a world I don't fully understand. Were you thinking of a particular audience as you wrote?
Chandra: I wanted to use the English that we actually speak in India, the language that I would use to tell this story if I were sitting in a bar in Mumbai talking to a friend. This English would be sprinkled with words from many Indian languages, and we would share a universe of cultural referents and facts that a reader from another country wouldn't recognize instantly. This, of course, is an experience that all of us have in a very various world. I remember reading British children's stories as a kid, and having long discussions with friends about what "crumpets" and "clotted cream" could possibly be. An Indian reader reading a novel about Arizona by an American writer might have no idea what a "pueblo" was, or why you went to a "Circle-K" to get a bottle of milk. But the context tells you something about what is being referred to, and there is a distinct delight in discovering a new world and figuring out its nuances. This is one of the great gifts of reading, that it can transport you into foreign landscapes. It's one of the reasons I read books from other cultures and places, and I hope American readers will share in this pleasure.
Amazon.com: Your book has dozens of characters who could live in books of their own. Aside from your two main figures, the policeman Sartaj Singh and the criminal Ganesh Gaitone, which was your favorite character to write?
Chandra: That would have to be Sartaj's mother, Prabhjot Kaur, as a young girl in pre-Partition India, I think. She's curious, innocent, and passionate; writing that chapter was hard and exhilarating.
Amazon.com: The movies of Bollywood (and Hollywood) are everywhere in your story, and many in your family (and you yourself) have been screenwriters and directors. For someone new to Indian film, what are some of your favorites you'd recommend?
Chandra: A very small sampling from the '50s onwards might be: Pyaasa (Thirst, 1957); Kaagaz ke Phool ("Paper Flowers," 1959); Mughal-e-Azam ("The Great Mughal," 1960); Sholay ("Embers," 1975); Parinda ("Bird," 1989); Satya (1998); Lagaan ("Land Tax," 2001); Lage Raho Munnabha ("Keep at it, Munnabhai," 2006).--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
More About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
Ganesh Gaitonde is a small-time crook who becomes the biggest Hindu mob boss in India. A street kid with no resources but his own wits, he evolves into a violent, immoral, spoiled man/boy who is protected and catered to by his band of dependent henchmen. He is as fascinating for his acts of unthinking bloodshed and revenge as he is for his sentimental generosity; for his naive delusion that he can produce the perfect Bollywood action movie, as he is by his blind devotion to a renowned holy man.
His story is laid side-by-side that of Sartaj Singh, a Sikh police officer in Mumbai. Singh is carrying the heavy mantle of a respected father who has preceded him on the force, a feeling of ennui about much of his daily grind, and a failed marriage. When Singh becomes the unwitting ear to Gaitonde's last words, and oversees the discovery of Gaitonde's body following his bizarre suicide, Singh is dragged into Gaitonde's sphere whether he wants to be there or not. We are captivated as Gaitonde posthumously recounts his autobiography and Singh tries to determine if Gaitonde's influence over India had grown from grossly criminal to internationally threatening.Read more ›
Mr. Chandra is obsessed with stories. One could argue that this is a quality inherent in all authors, but it is especially true in this case. While some authors dote on their characters and still others focus on the prose, it appears that Chandra's foremost goal is to keep the reader trapped in a tale, and another, and yet another until the reader is utterly disoriented but also strangely satisfied. We saw this in Red Earth and Pouring Rain, where the reader descended through level after level of storytelling and was then warped back to the present at hyper-speed. In Love and Longing in Bombay we read 5 stories on distinct emotional levels, but each interesting and engaging.
Sacred Games combines the breadth and scope of Red Earth and Pouring Rain with the realism of Love and Longing in Bombay and the result is a work of the quality that many observers felt Chandra was capable of.
At its most superficial level Sacred Games is the story of Mumabi police inspector Sartaj Singh's investigation into the bizarre murder-suicide of underworld mobster Ganesh Gaitonde. Along the way Chandra paints a vivid picture of crime fighting in India, including the corruption, scandal, and backroom deals all for a greater good. As one of Chandra's characters puts it, Mumbai's policemen are good men who are forced to be bad to prevent the worst men from taking power. However the main storyline makes up a small fraction of this nearly nine-hundred page marathon, there are numerous stories within the story that keep the book fresh.
Most notable among these subplots is the story of Ganesh Gaitonde himself and how he rose to prominence in the Mumbai underworld.Read more ›
This is one honkin' heavy book, believe me. I was afraid that its weight might tip my suitcase over the rather meager limit for in-India flights, so I carried it the whole time in my hand luggage. Now, a week after coming home, my shoulder's still out of joint.
But I can definitely say, it added more to my understanding of the country than any of the travel literature I read.
It's a big Bollywood mess of a book--and I mean that in the nicest sense. Lots of intriguing characters, mystery, romance, big moustaches, the odd wedding, a virtuous mother, even music. Subplots and histories abound, woven deftly into the present action. Chandra has made his shady policemen, his corrupt politicians, his grasping and clawing would-be actresses, even his murderers, all sympathetic in spite of their actions. It's a long, rambling love letter to Mumbai, and yes, it's a complicated book. But Mumbai is a complicated city in a very complicated country; the scope (and the heft) of the novel feels perfect for the task it undertakes.
Don't be intimidated by the foreign vocabulary. Once you decide to take the unfamiliar words in context--hint: most of them are either profanities or song lyrics--and stop skipping to the dictionary in back, you'll find yourself immersed.
Susan O'Neill, author, Don't Mean Nothing: Short Stories of Viet Nam
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I enjoyed this book immensely from the first to the last page. What did unerve me was that there is no translation of the Hindu slang which is plentiful and I liked that too, in... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Kath
Good story but very complicated plot. The characters are well developed and there are lots of surprises. The size is rather daunting.Published 6 months ago by Long Beach reader
Totally absorbing. I felt as if I lived and breathed in the air of India, in its dusty plains, and crisp, clean mountains, and throbbing, noisy cities. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Jack Thompson
Just to be clear, this is not a review of the book although I have started reading it. I have given it 3. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Ditsy Mitzi
An intriguing and suspenseful literary crime thriller, full of complex characters, beautiful story lines, and thoughtful (and violent, and gritty) reflections on life.Published 9 months ago by Scratch-prone
Sacred Games inserts the reader into Mumbai as few Westerners have ever experienced. Chandra's poetic description of this vast, teeming metropolis provides an ever-changing... Read morePublished 14 months ago by P1967
This is the second time I have read this wonderfully rich, zestful novel about cultural and social change in contemporary Mumbai/Bomday. Read morePublished 15 months ago by April Komenaka
good story but too many foreign words, which are disruptive to the story.Published 17 months ago by Eugenia Jenny Williams