three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
27-Mar-Apr-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-Sacred GamesIn present-day Mumbai, shanty towns exist side by side with modern high rises; capitalism runs rampant; and mobsters rule the city’s affairs. In this environment operates Sartaj Singh, a divorced Sikh police inspector at odds with mobster Ganesh Gaitonde, who has become rich by breaking every law in the land. But things aren’t as black and white as they seem. Sartaj isn’t beneath police violence and bribes; Ganesh, by contrast, remains loyal to the truth. Then Sartaj receives a tip concerning Ganesh’s whereabouts. As Ganesh recounts his life story to Sartaj from inside a bunker, tales about crime and corruption, Bollywood films, Indian intelligence, religion, and life’s meaning emerge.
HarperCollins. 928 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 0061130354

San Antonio Exp-News 4.5 of 5 Stars
"It is a terrific, brilliant, earthmover of a book, Crime and Punishment crossed with The Godfather, with some Sopranos-inspired irony thrown in to boot, and it has understandably made Chandra quite a bit famous back in India. … The question remains how it will be received here—and it’s not an idle one." John Freeman

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"One of the coolest things about Sacred Games is the crash course it offers in 21st century Indian society and especially the life of Mumbai. … Chandra loses control of the story now and then, as if he put a thread down for a little too long and everything had a different feel when he picked it up again." Susan Salter Reynolds

Newsday 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Where Gaitonde is a character straight out of The Godfather, Sartaj is the kind of detective that haunted old film noir: cynical, world-weary, not above accepting a bribe or roughing up a suspect, but often too disgusted to be bothered. … Chandra’s storytelling powers never flag … but at 900 pages, one does begin to question the sheer mountain of information in Sacred Games." Tom Beer

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The violence is bone-crunching. … Sacred Games is also a cocky experiment with the conventions of a thriller, breaking every rule a film director tells Gaitonde is needed for a successful formula film." Sandip Roy

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"The appeal of Sacred Games lies in its mix of several commercially reliable formulas (the thriller, the mob saga, the police procedural) along with considerable helpings of sex and violence plus enough genre-bending twists to keep pulp aficionados off balance and intrigued. … Those who like their tales of potential apocalypse served up lean and bloody may find Sacred Games a little too well done." Paul Gray

Washington Post 0.5 of 5 Stars
"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. … 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." Jonathan Yardley

Critical Summary

To critics, Sacred Games seems nearly as bewilderingly complex as Mumbai itself. A Dickensesque thriller, the lengthy melodrama covers almost every imaginable topic—from religious nationalism to politics, castes, the seedy underworld, Bollywood, love, death, nuclear bombs, and the shimmering promise of capitalism. Although the novel focuses on two likeable men, Ganesh and Sartaj (who first appeared in Chandra’s 1997 story collection, Love and Longing in Bombay), it meanders into the backstories and lives of dozens of other characters, creating a complicated—and somewhat alienating—web of subplots. Interesting if not succinct, Sacred Games forms "a colorful and textured tapestry of modern Indian life" for readers with ample patience (Newsday).