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Sacred Games: A Novel Hardcover – 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Mumbai in all its seedy glory is at the center of Vikram Chandra's episodic novel, which follows the fortunes of two opposing characters: the jaded Sikh policeman, Sartaj Singh, who first appeared in the story "Kama," and Ganesh Gaitonde, a famous Hindu Bhai who "dallied with bejewelled starlets, bankrolled politicians" and whose "daily skim from Bombay's various criminal dhandas was said to be greater than annual corporate incomes." Sartaj, still handsome and impeccably turned out, is now divorced, weary and resigned to his post, complicit in the bribes and police brutality that oil the workings of his city. Sartaj is ambivalent about his choices, but Gaitone is hungry for position and wealth from the moment he commits his first murder as a young man. A confrontation between the two men opens the novel, with Gaitonde taunting Sartaj from inside the protection of his strange shell-like bunker. Gaitonde is the more riveting character, and his first-person narrative voice lulls the reader with his intuitive understanding of human nature and the 1,001 tales of his rise to power, as he collects men, money and fame; creates and falls in love with a movie star; infiltrates Bollywood; works for Indian intelligence; matches wits with his Muslim rival, Suleiman Isa; and searches for fulfillment with the wily Guru Shridhar Shukla. Sartaj traces Gaitonde's movements and motivations, while taking on cases of murder, blackmail and neighborhood quarrels. The two men ruminate on the meaning of life and death, and Chandra connects them as he connects all the big themes of the subcontinent: the animosity of caste and religion, the poverty, the prostitution and mainly, the criminal elite, who organize themselves on the model of corporations and control their fiefdoms from outside the country. Chandra, who's won prizes and praise for his two previous books, Red Earth and Pouring Rain and Love and Longing in Bombay, spent seven years writing this 900-page epic of organized crime and the corruption that spins out from Mumbai into the world of international counterfeiting and terrorism, and it's obvious that he knows what he's talking about. He takes his chances creating atmosphere: the characters speak in the slang of the city ("You bhenchod sleepy son of maderchod Kumbhkaran," Gaitonde chastises). The novel eventually becomes a world, and the reader becomes a resident rather than a visitor, but living there could begin to feel excessive. (Jan.)
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.
*Starred Review* "The game lasts, the game is eternal, the game cannot be stopped, the game gives birth to itself." So muses a veteran Indian intelligence officer on his deathbed, his devoted disciple, Anjila Mathur (one of many tough women characters), at his side. The games that Chandra choreographs in this riveting epic of Mumbai's underworld are far more profane than sacred, yet they do require some form of faith. Sensing that the legendary don Ganesh Gaitonde was involved in something far worse than the usual gangland activities, Anjilia covertly assigns police inspector Sartaj Singh to the case. Seen-it-all-weary yet disciplined, Sartaj is both ruthless and compassionate, and his acute awareness and street wisdom play in counterpoint to Ganesh's naked ambition. Chandra (Love and Longing in Bombay, 1997) has created a compulsively involving literary thriller by drawing on the Mahabharata and aiming for the amplitude of Victorian novels. He spins webs within webs, portrays a multitude of diverse characters, nets the complexity of a huge metropolis, and takes full measure of how the world really works. Corruption, murder, arms dealing, Bollywood, plastic surgery, and a superstar guru on an apocalyptic mission--all fuel this novel of crime and punishment, survival and annihilation. A splendidly big, finely made book destined to dazzle a big audience. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
This book challenges the reader to consider each character and their actions across the entire spectrum of grey as there is no black and white involved here... The gangster Ganesh is capable of very violent acts but doesn't view himself as bad, in fact he's trying to create a better self, if not move towards enlightenment while continuing to run his empire. The police officer Sartaj considers moving up through the police ranks, finds love and will do the right thing but still accepts bribes, looks away as other officers beat suspects and could even be accused of extortion. What is right and what is wrong? Who is good and who is evil? It depends on the reader's perception because none of the players view themselves as either. Pick your shade of grey and it's not easy.
This book crosses decades and countries. It ebbs and flows, rises and falls and in many cases shocks for very different reasons. What a well crafted story, what a great ride.
Part police proceedural and part travelogue of some of the high points and "low lifes" of Mumbai/Bombay it is one of my favourite books about any large city and its denizens. I read this right after "Shantaram". Afterwards I was able to discuss Bombay like a citizen with a friend of mine who had lived there in the 90's.
If you really want to come to some sort of feeling for this megalopolis read them both one right after the other. Shantaram offers hope and Sacred Games offers none so be warned.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This is my first Chandra novel, and I have not yet read Shantaram but am looking forward to reading that as well. The way I discovered this book was searching for Hindi slang on Google, which led me to Chandra's glossary for the book. For many people, the presence of a 72 page glossary PDF for a novel would be a disincentive. But I *knew*, looking at the glossary, that I needed to read this book, and the hours I have put into this book have been very worthwhile. I now have a detailed image of what it means to be a modern, urban Indian.
I confess I am an Indophile with a strong interest in contemporary culture, and I am not sure I would have had the stamina to finish this book had I not had an abiding interest in urban India and the language and symbols of the era. Having to look up another word at least once for nearly every page of this novel has been a challenge, but also a pleasure; for I am now so in love with those words that I have committed most of the glossary to my own language study program.
I feel a deep kinship with other readers who have finished the 900 pages, and taken the time to learn the symbol set with which Chandra explores modern Bombay. Haven't we all been through quite an adventure together? I also fervently hope that this book, and others such as Shantaram, will ignite a flurry of new works of fiction exploring the beauty and horror of the great megalopolises of Asia. Such a wonderful, and terrifying, time to be alive!
I strongly advise readers check out Chandra's website and download the PDF glossary; the glossary found at the end of the book is incomplete.
I strongly recommend this book for students of Hindi looking for real language; so many language courses still use texts that are archaic and useless for the study of idiomatic communication and street vernacular. The Hinglish (Indian English) alone in this book is priceless and a very useful resource.
One final note. This book has given me a renewed interest in Bollywood cinema, as I have a much stronger sense of the importance of filmi culture to Indians, and why the movies are structured the way they are. I confess sometimes being impatient with the pace and maudlin, earnest tone of many Indian films. I now find I appreciate them much better because of the context that this novel has given me.
The seedy side of Mumbai is portrayed in minute and sometimes violent detail. Even the "good guys" are "bad guys" sometimes; and the "bad guys" aren't so bad on occasion.
If you do not like character studies, you may want to pass on this one. However, you will miss out on a wonderfully written study of a part of the world you don't normally see. Don't let the length turn you away, though. The book flows well and unlike too many books of this length, it doesn't drag halfway through. You'll be at the end before you know it. It even has a somewhat helpful glossary, but didn't include enough translations.
Yes, Sacred Games is 900 pages long, but every page is a gem. There is also a small glossary at the back to help you with Hindi words and phrases, although not every word is given a definition.
Because of his many references to Bollywood films (far more than those in Shantaram) I have now begun to rent a long list of Indian films. I wish I had begun to see them while I was reading the book, because actually knowing the music and hearing it in my head would have really helped set the mood a little bit better.