Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra

Not the sort of book I usually pick up but this mammoth tome is a terrific read. This book is part detective story, part gangster story, part historical saga,  part social commentary, part love story and part reflection on human existence all set against the background of Chandra's outstanding multi-layered portrayal of the teeming cauldron of humanity that is Mumbai.

Chandra portrays a city with extremes of poverty and wealth, with festering religious tensions, class tensions and significant gender inequality, where corruption and patronage are endemic where the police and politicians are often indistinguishable from the gangsters,  and yet where there are still heroes and villains, and where human existence is still glorious in all of its multifaceted complexity. I was so fascinated by this book that I went to google to learn more about Mumbai and about Indian history, society and culture. The references I checked support Chandra's portrayal and some of the tensions Chandra refers to are starkly evident in the differing interpretations of historical events that can be found on the internet. 

As an example of the loving craftsmanship that Chandra has obviously poured into this book consider the fact that immediately after the main plot is resolved there is a chapter devoted to several minor characters who only appear briefly in the rest of the book but who's stories nevertheless deserve to be told.

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