January 7, 2007


A police inspector and India's most notorious gangster collide in a strange relationship.: SACRED GAMES: A Novel By Vikram Chandra (Jonathan Yardley
Sunday, January 7, 2007, Washington Post)

The enthusiasm with which the venerable firm of HarperCollins is promoting this massive deadweight of a novel, and the money that it's putting where its mouth is, leaves one to ponder once again the eternally mysterious ways of the book-publishing industry. Certainly, Vikram Chandra is a writer of some talent, and he has a couple of British Commonwealth prizes to show for it, yet how is one to explain the ballyhoo with which advance proofs of Sacred Games were accompanied -- they actually came in a gold slipcase! -- or the $300,000 that the publisher says it will spend on a campaign to market the novel? It is almost inconceivable to me that American readers will rush to buy this novel, much less keep on reading it after, say, the first 50 pages, yet HarperCollins is so convinced they will that it is betting the house on Sacred Games.

Just for the record, I came to Sacred Games with a mind not merely wide open but full of anticipation. In part this was because of my admiration for two novels of immense length also set in India -- Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy and Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children-- in part because of similar feelings about Shashi Tharoor's tidier novel about the Indian film industry, Show Business, in part because of lingering affection for E.M. Forster's superb A Passage to India. The great nation of the Asian subcontinent produced, or was the subject of, some of the best literature of the 20th century; a new novel set there at the end of that century and the beginning of the next seemed to promise glories of the same kind, especially since India is now poised to become one of the world's strongest and most diverse economies.

Perhaps my biorhythms simply were off during the full work week it took me to wade through Sacred Games, but I think not. Though the novel does have its moments and a couple of intermittently interesting central characters, mainly it just wanders aimlessly along, written in a droning monotone and peppered with Indian colloquialisms that are sure to put off all but the best-informed American readers. It masquerades as tough-minded about all the bloody, sordid business with which it is preoccupied, but its heart is little more than sentimental mush. It is heavily influenced by the films of India and elsewhere -- "Beat him," characters say a couple of times in an obvious bow to "Lawrence of Arabia" -- but it is difficult to imagine that any filmmaker will be eager to adapt this novel, with its misshapen plots and subplots and its interminable length.

It's a curious thing, but the better-known -- more likely to sell and more able to dictate terms -- an author is these days the less inclined publishers are to so much as suggest edits, so our best authors write the worst books. However, Mr. Yardley is right that A Suitable Boy is a terrific immense read. Skip Rushdie.

Gangsta Raj: a review of SACRED GAMES By Vikram Chandra (PAUL GRAY, NY Times Book Review)

This immense, demanding novel can be recommended, with scarcely a cavil, to well-educated Indians who have lots of free time, are fluent in (at the very least) English and Hindi, and have a thorough knowledge of South Asian politics; Hindu, Muslim and Sikh religious practices; and the stars and story lines of hundreds of Bollywood films. Longtime Bombay residents will have an extra advantage, since they will know, without consulting a gazeteer or Google, why the city is now called Mumbai. Prospective readers who don’t fit this profile will have some catching up to do.

Fortunately, “Sacred Games” supplies the uninitiated with enough information to prevent them from giving up in despair — although not, it must be mentioned, with much solicitude for slow learners. If Vikram Chandra were a swimming instructor, he’d be one of those no-nonsense types who toss pupils into the deep end of the pool and then walk away, confident that immersion and panic will provide sufficient motivation for staying afloat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 7, 2007 9:20 AM

River of Gods by Ian MacDonald is a science fiction novel set in a future India you might want to check out. I haven't read it yet, but it's getting very good reviews.

Posted by: PapayaSF at January 7, 2007 1:37 PM

A Suitable Boy is a terrific immense read. Skip Rushdie.

Your judgment here is inverted and appalling, IMHO. Have a great day :)

Posted by: Xofis at January 14, 2007 4:37 PM