Sacred games

by Vikram Chandra

Hardcover, 2007

Status

Available

Publication

New York : HarperCollins, c2007.

Description

Receiving an anonymous tip that could lead to the capture of a powerful criminal overlord, Bombay police officer Sartaj Singh is nearing his goal when he realizes that his imminent confrontation with the crime lord is part of a more sinister agenda.

User reviews

LibraryThing member richardderus
WOW. What a book! It's over 900pp long! It's as overwhelming and complex and befuddling as Bharat itself is, for an uninitiated Murrikin tourist.

It's also fabuolously, gorgeously wrought, and very much worthy of being a bestseller. It never will be, for several reasons.

First: It has, and needs, a glossary. Second, it needs but has not an organized-by-relationship Cast of Characters. Third, it's a blinkin' wrist-sprainer of a hardcover and would be fatter than the Bible if it was turned into a mass-market paperback. Fourth, it's just as challengingly fragmented as Ulysses, only more fun to read.

Okay, first comes the glossary. Honestly, I don't know what to tell you about this. I think, based on personal experience, that it's best simply to immerse yourself in the sea of the book, experiencing it the way you would Mumbai if you went there without a tour guide. Just wander along behind Vikram, looking over his shoulder and listening to the people he's talking to; he's the author, after all, and we should trust him to lead us not into the temptation to give up, but deliver us to a satisfying conclusion to the stories he's telling us. He won't disappoint. But if you constantly flip back and forth, back and forth, to the glossary, it'll get wearing and make that giving-up option well-igh irresistable. Just let the language happen, let yourself see the words without having an instant picture of the concrete reality but rather absorbing the ideas behind them. "Chodo" doesn't need to mean something explicit to you for you to realize that it's being used to describe physical intimacy. You'll get that point PDQ. Let it happen naturally! Try to move past your ingrained logic-and-analysis patterns to experience something afresh.

Second, there are a LOT of people in this tale, and a more complete league table of them would have been helpful where a glossary was not especially so. I think it's useful, in books of more than 20 characters, for publishers to offer us the chance to refresh our memories about who's who and what role and relationship they have in the book. I'd make the publisher do this retroactively but that's not practical...Harper Collins isn't taking orders from me, for some strange reason.

Third, the immensity of the tome! Gadzooks and Godzilla! Had this book sold in the millions, Canada would be devoid of tree-cover. 928pp!! Now, having read the book twice, I can honestly and objectively say that at least 150pp could have come out and left the beauties of the book intact. I think it's a common problem among publishers, though, this inability, or unwillingness, or inexpertise at the art of good editing. I know it's hard. I know because I've done it, and done it very well. But I also know that the end product of a good, collaborative edit is a fabulously improved book.

Fourth, Vikram Chandra's fractured PoV for storytelling. This is the reason an organized Cast of Characters is needed...who's who is provided on p. xi-xii, but it's not complete, and it's not broken into groups by relationship. But the voices are, for third person-limited narrative, beautifully differentiated. The "Inset:" tags are clues to the changes of viewpoint, but we never leave the third person-limited narrative voice; it's challenging to make that not seem flat, like the PoV character suddenly knows things he can't possibly have access to; and for the most part, Vikram Chandra does it well. The last "Inset: Two Deaths, in Cities Far From Home" isn't quite as smooth as others, and in my never-very-humble opinion could be dispensed with whole and entire without damage to the rest of the story.

So why am I so mingy in giving this book a mere 3.5 stars? Because it's too big a commitment to ask a reader to make when it could have been shorter and better told. But folks, India is a huge, huge, huge place that has a lot of English speakers in it. They're going to be producing more and more books in English. I really, strongly advise you to start acclimatizing yourselves to this new reality by picking up works by talented storytellers like Vikram Chandra. Start here, start learning to let Hindi words reveal themselves to you, sink back into the immense, soft seas of India's talented storytellers...unless you want to learn Mandarin, that is.WOW. What a book! It's over 900pp long! It's as overwhelming and complex and befuddling as Bharat itself is, for an uninitiated Murrikin tourist.

It's also fabuolously, gorgeously wrought, and very much worthy of being a bestseller. It never will be, for several reasons.

First: It has, and needs, a glossary. Second, it needs but has not an organized-by-relationship Cast of Characters. Third, it's a blinkin' wrist-sprainer of a hardcover and would be fatter than the Bible if it was turned into a mass-market paperback. Fourth, it's just as challengingly fragmented as Ulysses, only more fun to read.

Okay, first comes the glossary. Honestly, I don't know what to tell you about this. I think, based on personal experience, that it's best simply to immerse yourself in the sea of the book, experiencing it the way you would Mumbai if you went there without a tour guide. Just wander along behind Vikram, looking over his shoulder and listening to the people he's talking to; he's the author, after all, and we should trust him to lead us not into the temptation to give up, but deliver us to a satisfying conclusion to the stories he's telling us. He won't disappoint. But if you constantly flip back and forth, back and forth, to the glossary, it'll get wearing and make that giving-up option well-igh irresistable. Just let the language happen, let yourself see the words without having an instant picture of the concrete reality but rather absorbing the ideas behind them. "Chodo" doesn't need to mean something explicit to you for you to realize that it's being used to describe physical intimacy. You'll get that point PDQ. Let it happen naturally! Try to move past your ingrained logic-and-analysis patterns to experience something afresh.

Second, there are a LOT of people in this tale, and a more complete league table of them would have been helpful where a glossary was not especially so. I think it's useful, in books of more than 20 characters, for publishers to offer us the chance to refresh our memories about who's who and what role and relationship they have in the book. I'd make the publisher do this retroactively but that's not practical...Harper Collins isn't taking orders from me, for some strange reason.

Third, the immensity of the tome! Gadzooks and Godzilla! Had this book sold in the millions, Canada would be devoid of tree-cover. 928pp!! Now, having read the book twice, I can honestly and objectively say that at least 150pp could have come out and left the beauties of the book intact. I think it's a common problem among publishers, though, this inability, or unwillingness, or inexpertise at the art of good editing. I know it's hard. I know because I've done it, and done it very well. But I also know that the end product of a good, collaborative edit is a fabulously improved book.

Fourth, Vikram Chandra's fractured PoV for storytelling. This is the reason an organized Cast of Characters is needed...who's who is provided on p. xi-xii, but it's not complete, and it's not broken into groups by relationship. But the voices are, for third person-limited narrative, beautifully differentiated. The "Inset:" tags are clues to the changes of viewpoint, but we never leave the third person-limited narrative voice; it's challenging to make that not seem flat, like the PoV character suddenly knows things he can't possibly have access to; and for the most part, Vikram Chandra does it well. The last "Inset: Two Deaths, in Cities Far From Home" isn't quite as smooth as others, and in my never-very-humble opinion could be dispensed with whole and entire without damage to the rest of the story.

So why am I so mingy in giving this book a mere 3.5 stars? Because it's too big a commitment to ask a reader to make when it could have been shorter and better told. But folks, India is a huge, huge, huge place that has a lot of English speakers in it. They're going to be producing more and more books in English. I really, strongly advise you to start acclimatizing yourselves to this new reality by picking up works by talented storytellers like Vikram Chandra. Start here, start learning to let Hindi words reveal themselves to you, sink back into the immense, soft seas of India's talented storytellers...unless you want to learn Mandarin, that is.
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LibraryThing member zibilee
Sacred Games is an intricate saga of modern Indian society, which tells the story of Inspector Sartaj Singh, a middle-aged, mid grade policeman, and the momentous case that will finally elevate him to quasi-success in the realm of the Indian police force. From the moment the charismatic Singh is introduced, already entrenched in his battle for upward mobility among his colleagues, the kaleidoscope of the region's people and culture is in motion, creating a dense and populated contemporary fairy tale of India, both delightful and disturbing. The crux of the story involves the manhunt and capture of one of India's most influential self-made gangsters, Ganesh Gaitonde. As the story weaves itself between the daily life and professional trials of Sartaj Singh and Gaitonide's retelling of his rise to power, the vagaries and intricacies of India and its population begin to expose themselves. In an almost explosive way, the reader is lead through a culture that defies any attempt for explanation: the warring factions of gangsters that control everyday existence for millions, the ethical bribing at every level of social existence, the strict caste separations, and the everyday attempts to maneuver amongst the crippling poverty of the country. In addition, the book is packed with a motley assortment of characters. From the plastic enhanced beauty queen to the semi-crooked police commissioner, the hustling club owner to the unscrupulous blackmailer, every camp has been represented. Through the vibrancy and complexity of these characters, the story begins to take shape. As it turns out, Gaitonde is far from the city's biggest problem. Unknown to everyone, Gaitonde has been plotting with someone even more sinister than himself and the repercussions for Indian society just got a lot more complicated and dangerous. Though the main focus is always the tug of war between Singh and Gaitonde, there are several other sets of stories embedded within the main narrative, and each one only enhances the layers and conspiracies that float just beneath the surface of this funny, sad and thrilling novel.

One of the reasons that it's so hard to describe this book is because there is just so much of everything. The characters, situations and atmosphere are literally packed into this huge tome. It would be easy to say that this was a great book and leave it at that, but the thought and patience that must have gone into the creation of this brimming story leave me to marvel. Every instance of action is held to it's fullest potential, which kept me tense as I sprung from page to page. Threads of story disappeared completely, only to be deftly introduced again just when I thought they had dissipated. The author never let up on his hold over the story, keeping a myriad of confusions and labyrinth of details all in check. Every character, no matter their importance in the story, had a piece in the greater puzzle, and it was exciting to watch the drama creep from unforeseen corners out onto the main stage to thunder back into the spotlight. There were no messy segues and bits of plot left over in this story: everything was expertly tucked in, leaving no niggling questions to sort out other than the obvious moral conundrums that the story itself creates. One of the great things about this book was the way that each character was fully rounded and three-dimensional. Yes, there were some stock characters, but I would say that about 95% of the characters were shown in a way that highlighted their importance to the plot, while still fleshing them out completely. And despite the fact that Gaitonde was a villain, he came across as uniquely humble and beneficent while still managing to be an altogether bad apple. I also fell in love with the character of Sartaj Singh, just a little bit. His formalities, prudence and humility were very touching, lending him the air of an upright yet fallible gentleman. In a brilliant yet understated way, the country of India was not only the backdrop for this story, it became a character in itself. The effect was a clever installation of place, but it also lent a depth to the India I was familiar with and exposited for me whole new avenues of imagination. The book did have some violence running through the plot, but it was by no means gratuitous or off-putting. In this instance, I would say the author hit the perfect balance with his use of violence: not too gory, yet not too tame. I couldn't help but feel involved with this book, as it presented an India that few ever see: a teeming and colorful world that I feasted upon with relish.

This is, however, an extremely long book, and requires a certain level of commitment from the reader. The only problem I had with this book was the fact that I had to lug it around. To remedy this, I suggest that you may feel more comfortable with the paperback version. I should also mention that the book includes a glossary of the Indian slang that is peppered throughout the book. I found the glossary to be extremely helpful. This book had it all in terms of its pace, scope and subject matter, and gave me so much more to wonder about an area of the world that I already find fascinating. If you have the time to invest in this book, and have a love for Indian fiction, you can't go wrong with Sacred Games.
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LibraryThing member Joycepa
Why did Ganesh Gaitonde, Mafia-style Indian crime lord, return to Mumbai to commit suicide?

This question is central to the plot of this very good police procedural. Two protagonists are driven to find the answer: Sartaj Singh, an divorced inspector with the Mumbai police department, and Gaitonde himself, who narrates his life story--after his suicide.

While true to its genre, Sacred Games is much more than a police procedural. The story could not have taken place outside of Mumbai; indeed, at one time or another, all the major characters talk about their love or need for this sprawling, dirty, polluted, completely corrupt city. The book abounds with descriptions of neighborhoods, important buildings, stores, restaurants, street vendors, and everything else that makes up the vital life of this city.

The same is true for the people as well; we meet them from every walk of life, from the beggars through the lowest criminal through socialites, businessmen--and film stars. What Chandra shows is the (to me) truly astonishing obsession Indians have with films, from the songs to the actors and actresses who star in them, and who occupy the fantasies of those in every stratum of Indian life. Bollywood and its culture play a major role in the story.

The book is structured in an interesting way: third person narrative of Sartaj Singh’s role with first-person narrative by Gaitonde. From time to time, Chandra inserts other related material in just that way: chapters he calls inserts.

I enjoyed the story and found the abundant information about Mumbai fascinating. Chandra liberally uses Hindi and other vocabulary, particularly street slang, throughout the book; while there’s a glossary in the back, it’s nowhere near adequate. Plus, this is a long, long book, 947 pages, and after a while, the need to check constantly with the glossary becomes annoying, especially when the word you’re looking for isn’t there. The length seems necessary given Chandra’s goals, but the book does tend to bog down in the middle. What keeps up the interest, though, is Gaitonde, who is a great character. Even while other parts lag, Gaitonde is always fascinating, as we learn about his life through his eyes, his intriguing spiritual quest, and his descent into his own particular hell. Without Gaitonde, the book would be mediocre, no matter how much detail of Mumbai life Chandra crams into the story.

If you are interested in indian life, and want to read more abut the way Indians look at Bollywood, then this is a good book; the police procedural part is nicely nested within all that information. But it is not a book I would recommend on either its literary or entertainment merits.
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LibraryThing member amygdala
Vikram Chandra does it again: weaving an intricate tongue-in-cheek tapestry of life in Bombay - the fuckups, the apathy, the peculiar morality, the bonhomie. Make no mistake, this is a filmi book for that most filmi-est of Indian cities, and the plot and the characters are alternately grandiose and utterly human: pure and holy and maaderchod all at once. This book will take you a while to get through, but by the time you encounter one of Chandra's classic literary manoeuvres - Ganesh Gaitonde continues speaking to Sartaj Singh even after he kills himself - you're hooked. This is not Chandra's best work - for that, you must look to "Red Earth, Pouring Rain" - but as a snapshot of contemporary India it has few parallels. Highly recommended, especially for the Indian diaspora. I chuckled in glee often.

The plot, briefly: Sartaj Singh, a simple unassuming police inspector (our hero) crosses paths with Ganesh Gaitonde (also our hero), notorious Mumbai don, dead in his nuclear bunker by his own hand, with a young woman dead beside him. The authorities from Delhi find counterfeit money in the bunker, and poor inconsequential Sartaj is launched on a quest to get to the bottom of all this. Along the way he encounters rumours of a mad Swami, mysterious intelligence officials, actress-whores and corrupt politicians and ordinary murderers and adulterous airhostesses and, of course, unexpected love.

If you have watched the Bollywood movie 'Company' from a few years ago, this book will begin where that movie left off, and goes deeper into the psyche of the Mumbai underworld than almost everyone would like to pretend they are comfortable with (unless, of course, you have read "Shantaram").

A word of warning: you really have to have grown up in North India to properly understand the language and the characters (Chandra draws richly on Bollywood and Indian soap opera tradition). The glossary helps, but as one reviewer pointed out, switching back and forth is a bit tedious. Non-Indians are advised to either take in the novel without attempting to understand the Bombay slang words (they really aren't all that essential to understanding the text), read Suketu Mehta's "Maximum City" first, or watch a lot of Bollywood movies before attempting to read this book. There are, unfortunately, no shortcuts to cultural understanding.
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LibraryThing member kd9
This immersive book showing the culture and language of India is an impressive work. However, I had to treat is as a science fiction novel. Yes, there is a glossary in the back explaining some of the unfamiliar words, phrases and songs, but in the first fifty pages, only half the words I tried to look up were actually there. Eventually I just made assumptions. THIS is probably food. THAT is probably profanity. THIS OTHER is probably a word of affection.

I can't deny that this is a well written book. I won't even say that there are too many characters, but I will say that this book, as well written and fascinating as it is, goes on way, way too long. Although I can see why he added every scene, they all illuminate the great variety and contradictions of India, I still think that if this book had been half as long, it would have been tighter and simply more readable. As it is, I picked it up and put it down many times. When you are reading page 400 and realize that you are less than half the way through, there is a great need to read something else, anything else. If he had just stuck to the main characters, I would have been very interested in another book with all the little vignettes of life in India as a series of short stories. But now I feel I have probably read everything he has had to say about life in India, even if he writes another dozen volumes.
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LibraryThing member tchelyzt
This is not one novel, but several interlaced. At its most basic, it’s a police procedural with the indomitable Sartaj Singh carrying out his low-tech job as a police detective in Mumbai. Like all the best modern literary detectives (such as Mankell’s Wallander) Sartaj is a decent, complicated, divorced and troubled man. Unlike most, he lives in a world where graft and corruption seem to be a part of everyone’s life, including his own; he takes bribes, he beats confessions out of captives and he feels guilt about it all. Put him in London or New York and he’d be detestable. In Mumbai, he’s a champion! He is a superb creation and I fervently hope to meet him again.

Interleaved in Sartaj’s daily muddling through, Ganesh Gaitonde, a major Mumbai crime-boss tells us his venal life story. Although some of his history is fascinating, this is the least attractive part of Sacred Games. I was uncomfortable with this narrative for a number of reasons. Firstly because Gaitonde dies in the first hundred pages and I saw no literary justification for this life-story narrated in the first-person. Secondly, because his self-justification began eventually to jar on me. Thirdly, because the key plot leading to his downfall smacked a little too much of a Stephen Siegal thriller with nuclear bombs and last minute rescues. Nevertheless, Gaitonde’s story had its merits; it’s witty, frequently original and it introduces Jojo, the woman who refuses to meet him but who provides him with girls. The foul-mouthed, corrupt Jojo is one of this novels fantastic originals. It is through her that we get to explore aspects of Bollywood and the depths the ambitious and unconnected must stoop to in order to succeed.

More than anything else, what I really loved about Sacred Games was its principle character, India. I knew nothing about India before I picked up this book and it has mesmerised me. Flashbacks take us back fifty years to Partition when India and Pakistan went their separate ways and tens of millions of people were displaced. We get insights into a state which is simultaneously modern and feudal. The book is steeped in politics and religion. We are treated to many brief but fully fleshed-out biographies of people from all strata of society, loosely connected to the main storyline, but fascinating for themselves. This is a novel we want to enter and get involved with its very real inhabitants. I continuously wanted to intervene, to use my privileged insider-knowledge of all their stories to correct the accidents of history, set them straight and help them out.

Some reviewers have criticised the Insets, chapters which recount stories outside the main thread of the narrative, as distracting to the reader. Personally, I found that these were the elements that elevated the book beyond good to GREAT. The author uses these tales to underline that none of the characters ever knows the whole story. In this way, the reader has a perspective that the characters miss. We see, for example, mitigating circumstances in the life of the cop killer. I particularly liked the story of the two sisters, separated by the Partition, who end up living long and rewarding lives in opposite camps.

I can’t remember when I was so ‘involved’ in a story. This is the book that will bring me eventually to visit India.
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LibraryThing member sereq_ieh_dashret
I cried, honest to the gods, reading the second-to-last chapter. I had quite figured out who the ISI agent's mother was, but I cried nonetheless...
LibraryThing member jimmydare
This book is very good, and very long, and unfortunately, for me, the long part waylaid the good part in a dark alley. It's a gangster novel, a detective novel, and an every-character-in-the-novel-has-a-story-novel. I could have done will a bit less of the third element.
LibraryThing member Booxforme
Fascinating account of the interlocking lives of a good and a bad guy in Bombay. Rather philosophical in outlook with quit a bite of Bollywood feeling mixed into – and fabously written
LibraryThing member jacquieao
This is a marvelous mystery tale set in contemporary Mumbai. It is for dedicated readers, as it is as long as War and Peace, but rewards those who persevere.
LibraryThing member ebethe
It began dragging about 3/4's of the way through, and the ending seemed less well thought out than the beginning.
LibraryThing member MAM
I really liked it but I really like ice cream too, but I would never eat a whole gallon. He did create a whole world and people with lives but I already have one that I have to live.
LibraryThing member Lenaphoenix
As someone with a 300-page attention span, I wasn't sure I'd finish Vikram's 900-page magnum opus. But the story is so engrossing I could hardly put the book down, and I'm not someone who generally reads crime thrillers. The language is stunning, the characters are rich and deep, and book gives Westerners like me a view into Indian life that we would never be likely to see otherwise. I found myself lingering over the images and ideas in this book long after the 900th page.… (more)
LibraryThing member broughtonhouse
What an excellent piece of writing. The story is long but able to develop leisurely and explore the characters in depth in their big and polluted pond called Mumbai. Without going into details of the plot, it is skilfully woven around a series of characters at all levels of society, rich and poor, high and low caste, Muslim and Hindu, criminal and downright mad.

This book should be read in conjunction with Suketu Mehta's excellent Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, which while a biography of the city and hence assumed to be a reasonably accurate account, has surprising parallels with the apparently fictional story of Sacred Games.
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LibraryThing member firebird013
Clever, fast moving, endlessly surprising - a police procedural from one point of view; a biography (fictional of course) of an Indian mafiosi. There relationship starts the story off. For those of us who have lived in India for a bit it is a compelling evocation. Enjoyable and well worth reading.
LibraryThing member dbsovereign
"'Love is a murdering gaandu...'" Violent, cunning, and superbly enthralling. Gives one a new appreciation for the complexity that is India. Chandra captures the wealth of the poor and the poverty of the wealthy. The story is great, but the characters are magnificent, the city of Mumbai the greatest character of them all.
LibraryThing member cosmicvibe
Excellent read. Fun. Lots of key words and phrases to learn as you walk along and take in the character of India. Much to learn. Simply fabulous read.
LibraryThing member janey47
I really liked it a lot. The New Yorker review was kind of a pan, basically saying that Chandra has far greater abilities than he shows here, but honestly, I think the reviewer was looking for something hidden that was in plain view. I thought the characters were well crafted, and I thought the story was *supposed* to be homage to Bollywood. It kept me completely entertained and engaged for 900 (exactly) pages.

It's the story of two people -- Sardaj Singh, a police detective, and Ganesh Gaitonde, a bigwig in an Indian mafia-style gang. The book begins with Gaitonde being apprehended via an anonymous phone call, so there's no chase or hunt involved. Except that there are unanswered questions once he's been found.

So the book is made up of alternating chapters -- Gaitonde's life history in the first person and Singh's current life in the third person. And there are four "insets," in which one or more other people are examined closely -- a turning point in the life of Singh's mother (during Partition), the last days of an intelligence officer who "ran" Gaitonde for years, etc. And, surprisingly, these insets not only don't disrupt the narrative, they also add texture and depth to the main story. I really really enjoyed them.
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LibraryThing member kirstiecat
You know that one Seinfeld episode where Elaine loves all the recommendations of this guy at the video rental place and even goes to the point of falling in love with him and it turns out he's just a kid? Well, I tend to love all of the recommendations of Ed at Unabridged Books in Chicago. It's really not like that though as he's much older than me, I'm married, and I'm pretty sure he's not interested in women that way. He usually has impeccable taste, though, so I follow all of his reviews and read everything he recommends.

This is actually the first time I've been a little unimpressed with one of his recommended reads to be honest and that's quite a doozy considering that this book clocks in at about 950 pages. It does have a huge strength of helping me learning a little more about India and Chandra is coming from a much different sort of perspective than a few of the others I've read-Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Indra Sinha. Basically, I can see this being a commonly read household type of novel because of the very accessible writing style but at the same time, I found it a little confined and stifling. It doesn't flow very well for me and there isn't enough of an insight into humanity. He's a great story teller in the way he crafts through all of these different characters across time who are involved in every level of society from gangsters to police detectives to gurus. There's a fantastic complexity explored in terms of politics and religion. Again, it was mainly the writing style itself I disliked and the lack of the sense of lyric nature. If this had been a book that was even 400 pages in length, I wouldn't have felt so upset about that but it takes quite a time investment to read 1,000 pages...I'd rather love every minute.

Again, I'll note that this is a stylistic thing that others may look past easily to learn and love such an epic sort of story.

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LibraryThing member debbie.menzel
This is a fantastic book! A sweeping epic set in India that goes back and forth in time to tell various stories. It took me a bit to get used to the Indian slang and didn't discover the glossary in the back until after I finished the book! Well worth any deciphering one must do - it's wonderful. I loved it!
LibraryThing member gypsysmom
This doorstopper weighs 780 grams and has 947 pp. not including the glossary (which I am very thankful was included) or the other P.S. material included by Harper. However I never felt I was bogging down in detail or wishing it would just conclude. It was an eye-opening read about India and I am glad I finally read this book.

It's hard for me to condense this book into a paragraph or two but I'll give it a try. The main story involves a policeman in Mumbai, one Sartaj Singh. His father was also a policeman but he has been dead for some time. His mother, who was born in the Punjab which became part of Pakistan after Partition, was still alive but lived outside of Mumbai in a small hill town. As would be obvious to anyone from the Indian subcontinent Sartaj Singh is a Sikh. He is divorced so he spends most of his waking hours working. One day he gets a phone call in the early morning telling him where he can find the notorious crime boss Ganesh Gaitonde. This is quite a coup because Gaitonde was thought to be in hiding outside of India. Gaitonde is living in an almost indestructible underground bunker and before Sartaj manages to break down the upper structure he talks at some length to Sartaj. As Sartaj breaks in Gaitonde shoots himself; there is also the body of a woman in the bunker with him. Before Sartaj can really do a proper investigation the case is taken over by members of the Indian spy agency. However, Sartaj is asked to do some work on the case and doing so he discovers that the dead woman was JoJo Mascarenas, a television producer and agent for actors and actresses. This brings him into contact with JoJo's sister, Mary, with whom he falls in love. He also helps uncover a plot by the Pakistani government to flood the Indian economy with fake money and another plot by a religious zealot to explode a nuclear device in Mumbai. Sartaj also has more mundane duties like intervening in a marital dispute and picking up bribes for his superior officer. Sartaj is not a perfect person but the reader can't help but like him.

The main plot is interspersed with other narrative threads with one very significant exploration of Ganesh Gaitonde's life which his spirit narrates after his corporeal death. This is a look at the dark underbelly of Mumbai and beyond and it should have been highly distasteful but was somehow fascinating (sort of like looking at a traffic accident as you drive by). There was also a thread about how the Indian Partition affected Sartaj's mother and her family which was heartbreaking.

There are characters from all the different religions in India which I found particularly interesting. Chandra shows everyone as having good and bad qualities just as real people do. One comes away from reading this book with an admiration for how well the Indian society works despite all the different beliefs.
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LibraryThing member shawnd
'Feel like you're in India without going there' would be one simple way to put it. I've never been to India, but now I feel like I have! This is a well-written book worthy of being a bestseller. It's not truly a detective or crime novel, however the main character is Sartaj Singh, an Indian police detective in Bombay. And the protagonist is Ganesh Gaitonde, a mafia godfather. The books walks us along with Singh in his daily life experiencing his various co-workers, criminal cases, progress understanding Gaitonde, and run-ins with pickpockets, Secret Service, strippers, politicians, and many others. A couple of notes about the book. First, it's long, about 800 pages and I didn't find it a fast read. Second, it is peppered with Hindi words, for which Chandra provides a mostly complete glossary. Although this might sound off-putting it wasn't too hard and words cited are used over and over so I learned some words. Third, it isn't tightly edited. For example, there is a section of 20+ pages of stream of consciousness from a minor character (Singh's mother) about pretty dull events 20 years before. If this was edited well this would never have made it in, in my opinion. All that aside, I believe this to be an excellent book; eye-opening to the real contemporary Indian culture; insightful, much more than just a crime story.… (more)
LibraryThing member idiotgirl
This book is much longer than it needs be, that it can justify being. Not Dickens or Eliot. That said, I enjoyed the book. An interesting narrative ploy. The story begins with an incident (the suicide of a gangster who calls a policeman just before the end). The story goes forward from the policeman's perspective. Goes back to the begining and moves forward from the ganster's perspective. Eventually the two stories intersect for a second time. Much narrative meditation on international scene, muslim and hindu history in India/Pakistan and going forward, popular culture. A good book, if not a great one.… (more)
LibraryThing member mojacobs
Others have told enough about the story, so I'll keep it short. I think this is a masterpiece in the true sense of the word: Vikram Chandra is a master-writer. He has created a complete world full of well-formed characters, in a complex but very readable book with several plotlines and several layers. I stand in awe. ”

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