Sacred Games

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“Books of the Year,” The Independent (UK)
“Twenty Best Books of the Year,” Le Point (France)
“Books of the Year,” Financial Times (UK)
“Pick of the Month,” January 2007, Booksense (USA)
“10 Best Asian Books of 2006,” Time (Asia Edition)
“Best Fiction of 2006,” Guardian (USA)
“The Fiction List for 2006,” Bloomberg.com (USA)
“Notable Books,” Sahara Time (India)
“Fiction of the Year,” Business Standard (India)
“Best Books,” Man’s World (India)
“Roll of Honour,” The Financial Express (India)
“Notable Books,” San Francisco Chronicle (USA)

Winner of the Hutch Crossword Award for English Fiction for 2006
Winner, Salon Book Awards, 2007
Finalist, National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction

Sacred Games is a literary novel that is also a crime novel, a detective story, and a thriller. Sartaj Singh, a seasoned and cynical Bombay police officer, is summoned by an anonymous tip one morning, by a voice which promises him an opportunity to capture the powerful Ganesh Gaitonde, criminal overlord of the G-Company.

The confrontation between Sartaj and Ganesh lies at the heart of this epic novel. As the stakes mount and Sartaj seeks knowledge of his prey, it becomes clear that the game the two players thought they were engaged in is in fact part of a much larger scenario, one that expands beyond their city and implicates the planet. Around this story, Vikram Chandra has constructed an opulent, exhilarating narrative, one that bridges the serious and the popular, recalling the great and capacious novels of the 19th century.

Sacred Games moves through many landscapes: a police officer falls in love; a young woman comes to the big city to become a film star; a young girl tries to understand what has become of her family in the midst of political chaos and mass murder; a widow battles poverty and the urban pressures that distort the lives of her young sons; a freshly-trained, inexperienced intelligence officer leads an army patrol into the bleak iciness of Himalayan peaks; a canny, intelligent woman takes some very shady money to produce television shows about the sufferings of women; an idealistic graduate student, hounded by the police and local politicians, seeks refuge in the ranks of Maoist guerillas; a right-wing religious leader conducts an enormous yagna or sacrifice for the citizens of Bombay; a famous, ferocious bhai leads his company to victory after victory, and discovers the strange emptiness of getting what he wants.

All these lives, simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary, flow around and into each other to make the shape of the novel, which holds what the last words of Love and Longing in Bombay reach for — “only life itself.”

Citation by the judges for the Hutch Crossword Award for English Fiction, 2006:

Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games wins the Hutch Crossword prize for English Fiction because in a crowded field filled with really first rate writing, the jury unanimously felt it was the outstanding novel of this year.

Like the city it’s set in, Sacred Games is teeming with stories – love stories, crimes, stories of displacement, of ambition, of moral conundrums, of life – lives – and death. In its nearly thousand pages, Vikram Chandra manages to interweave multiple genres, each as compelling as the other, each intertwined storyline finding its own moving, violent, spectacular resolution. The story of Inspector Sartaj Singh’s pursuit of the gangland don, Ganesh Gaitonde is one of the great detective thrillers of our time. It is as pacy as a potboiler, as grand and as ambitious as an epic. Vikram Chandra is a master of the close-up – zooming to capture every nuance and detail of his characters lives – but the novel is anything but small screen. The reader is swept up in the extraordinary narrative ambition of this novel which not only tells you more stories than you’d find on an entire bookshelf (in Crossword bookstore!), but throws in novella length back stories, ‘inserts’ as they’re called, that act as fictional tributaries feeding the massive flow of the book’s main course.

This is a Big Book—and not just because you could stun an ox with it. It makes a great metropolis and its cast of thousands real in an idiom that makes questions of Englishness and Indianess and authenticity seem silly and beside the point. The sheer, unapologetic, unitalicised, ballsiness of the language is one of the most purely enjoyable aspects of this extraordinary book. The reader doesn’t suspend disbelief: plausibility is a small virtue: this epic novel gives its reader whole worlds to inhabit. — Anita Roy, Mukul Kesavan, Shoma Chaudhury

Citation, Salon Book Awards, 2007:

At the beginning of Chandra’s vast, electrifying second novel, Mumbai’s most notorious gangster dies in a strange, cube-shaped bunker after a shootout with the police; the rest of the book tells us why. The man in charge of unearthing the truth is a courtly, middle-aged Sikh police detective named Sartaj Singh, who follows the trail through a dirty, maddening, glorious city that rivals Dickens’ London in ruthlessness and vitality. Mumbai may be violent and trashy, drunk on Bollywood dreams and choking on its own smog, but it’s the real hero of this story; Chandra clearly loves it to distraction even when it horrifies him. The villain is not a criminal, really, but fanaticism in all its forms, and the battle is literally between life and death, between those who understand that this world is necessarily chaotic, flawed and painful and those whose craving for order, calm and purity make them so very, very dangerous. — Salon.com

This is a moment worth marking. It’s a landmark in the history of Indian English literature. Decades from now, we’ll be looking back at the roster of great contemporary novels, and the title Sacred Games will trip off our tongues blithely and reverentially. So let’s hear it for Vikram Chandra. He’s just written one of the most masterful works of literature, a great crime thriller, a magnificent city novel, and an exploration of the Indian psyche at the close of the millennium that has never been attempted before on this scale, and has certainly never been accomplished this masterfully.

This is a big novel in every sense. Nine-hundred pages in full-size hardcover. That’s impressive by any standards. But unlike so many other doorstoppers, there’s never a sense that the editor was missing in action. On the contrary, every page is a minor miracle of style, empathy and insight… [Sacred Games] is a richly imagined and perfectly rendered realistic novel of the streets, the gullees and the back alleys, the gutters and the chawls, police stations and bastis, slums and skyscrapers. This is a world straight out of Ram Gopal Varma films — the foul Bumbaiya tapori argot, the rough characters, gritty locales, blood, booze and broads. But no Varma production could ever hope to delve so deeply into the psyche of the characters as Chandra does to show us not only protagonist policeman Sartaj Singh (who first appeared in a story in Chandra’s collection, Love and Longing in Bombay), but also his assistant, and Singh’s mother’s recollections of Punjab and Partition, as well as an extended autobiographical rumination by Ganesh Gaitonde — perhaps the most mesmerising character study in the book — and brilliantly achieved vignettes and flashes of hundreds of minor characters and man-on-the-street sketches.

Then there’s the setting. Bombay. It’s more than a setting. It’s the book itself. Chandra brings it brilliantly, deeply alive — in all her foulness, filth and stained beauty. Early on, you see how easily he could have made this just a crime novel — a very good one at that. But within a handful of pages, you see how he’s reaching far beyond genre, beyond literary categories and boundaries. He’s reaching, you realise, with a lump in your throat, for life itself… No other novel has attempted so much, and achieved it all so gracefully, elegantly, quietly.

Chandra coaxes a life’s best performance out of this bar-dancer of a city, this mad metropolis…  Sacred Games unfolds in prose just right for its purposes, foul language that has never felt so right and so vital, exterior descriptions and interior monologues that are as real as your own thoughts and observations, building like a Virar Fast with a bomb planted in the First Class Compartment.

This is a great novel, perhaps the greatest book on Bombay ever written. Certainly a contender for the Great Indian Novel. It deserves a standing ovation and a crisp street salute. Smartly done, bhidu. — Ashok Banker, Hindustan Times (India).

Sacred Games is the single best book I have ever read about my city. It captures Bombay in a way that no other book has ever managed. And judged purely as a novel, it is an astonishing triumph of the imagination. Long after I had finished reading it, the incidents and the characters refused to fade from my memory. Even now, Ganesh Gaitonde turns up in my dreams. This is a book about Bombay written by a person who understands the city. It is meant for those of us who know Bombay. It is not written for foreign audiences or American reviewers…. The strength of the book — at least, from my perspective — is that it is set in a vastness of grey. There are no black and whites in Bombay. There is no simple right and wrong. If you want moral certitude, find yourself another city. — Vir Sanghvi, Hindustan Times (India).

Sacred Games is a detective story in precisely the same way that Bleak House is a detective story.

Chandra shares with Dickens the ability to sustain a multitude of sub-plots that writhe energetically around the smooth uncoiling of his principal theme — the duel of wits between Sartaj Singh and Ganesh Gaitonde, both now entering middle age, that realm of doubt and dread. His other Dickensian trait is the ability to enlist an entire city — in this case, Bombay (or Mumbai, the novel uses the terms interchangeably) — as a character in his drama.

In fact, one of the most moving aspects of this book’s multi-faceted nature is its characterisation of Bombay — tender, violent, mephitic, fascinating, beautiful and vile — and the way in which Chandra is able to examine the city’s teeming mass of lives simultaneously in, as it were, long-shot and close-up. So, at any given moment, the reader has a sense both of grand, unfolding drama — corruption, political machinations, national and global religious conflicts, a terrorist plot of apocalyptic dimensions — and an almost painful intimacy with the individual lives involved in that drama: the policeman’s widow and her two young sons; the village girl turned glamorous film star; the small-time blackmailer and his self-regarding victim; the gangster, lonely in the terrible splendour of his success.

‘All human life is here’ was the old newspaper boast, and so it is in Sacred Games, delineated with a master’s grandeur and scope and a miniaturist’s precision and tenderness. Seven years it took Chandra to write, and such is the haunting precision of its observation and the resonant authority of its narrative voice that one could read it seven times over and still be finding new treasures; missed flourishes of virtuosity.

One uses the terms ‘epic’ and ‘classic’ with caution. But if eloquence, confidence, humanity, grace and fine observation are their raw materials, perhaps Sacred Games deserves those epithets. — Jane Shilling, The Daily Telegraph (UK).

Chandra’s work is a masterpiece, and the reader will never be able to separate the image created by the author from the one got during a visit to Bombay. – Germán Gullón, El Mundo (Spain)

…there are times when, reading Sacred Games, you’d swear you were holding the entire teeming city in your hands. It’s a novel to get lost in, a novel to make you annoyed at anything that impinges on your time with it, a novel to make you envy those who are just starting it, a novel to remind us of why we read novels…  Sacred Games is a 19th-century novel that breathes the air of now, that gives the lie to those who insist that a fragmented, digital culture can be captured only by a fragmented narrative. “Once the air of this place touches you,” says one of the characters about Mumbai, “you are useless for anywhere else.” Chandra makes readers useless for novels that offer less than his immense generosity. — Charles Taylor, The Phoenix (USA).

…a richly evoked Mumbai… Chandra’s achievement is to take this violent scene and place it in a kaleidoscope, sending us off in myriad directions to watch as patterns unfold, merge and separate… [Sacred Games] delivers on its promises, not least in the exuberance of its language, which is full of Indian vernacular… the best way to read the novel is simply to surrender to its seductive sprawl.  — Manini Chaterjee, The Hindu (India).

[Sacred Games] can lay claim to being The Great Mumbai Novel. It encompasses not just the underworld but the city’s distinctive patois, cuisine, neighbourhoods and more, while narrating the cat-and-mouse game between don Ganesh Gaitonde and Inspector Sartaj Singh, a character from Chandra’s earlier, heartfelt Love and Longing in Bombay. — Sanjay Sipahimalani, The Indian Express (India).

Sacred Games is — you have been warned — one of those books that one not only reads but inhabits. To inhabit Sacred Games means — again, you need to know — moving to Bombay, to Mumbai… Before everything and everyone else there is Chandra: a fabulist at work who not only entertains the reader but, as is clear from page 1… takes an all but obscene pleasure in the act of writing…. So do make the journey, and enter calmly into one of those books that from time to time — when we can drag our eyes off the page — set us thinking, so that we tell ourselves: “Ah, of coure, this is what a novel ought to be: this is how people were affected by the great 19th-century novels.” — ABCD (Spain).

Sacred Games is so intriguing and so thoroughly constructed that it’s difficult to escape from it and return to your daily life… Chandra’s novel shows that life, any life, is a game, a game which is, in equal parts, serious and insignificant, sacred and profane, pleasant and painful, familiar and alien: dice rolling on the ground that only death can stop. – Jesús Aguado, El País (Spain).

In its 900-odd pages, Sacred Games encompasses police procedural, political thriller, social portrait of modern Mumbai and flashbacks to India’s post-colonial religious and ethnic upheavals… Amazingly, Chandra keeps a firm grip on all these elements, and while the rise and fall of Gaitonde is the book’s glamorous heart, it is the everyday detail – the death of a dog, a family outing or Sartaj’s bleak home life – that make this huge novel worth immersing yourself in for several enjoyable weeks. — Isobel Montgomery, The Guardian (UK).

Indian writers have long striven to deliver the great Mumbai novel… Chandra comes staggeringly close to total success. His mind-stretching sweep takes in a detectives-and-gangsters thriller, a social panorama, a satire of India new and old… and so much else. This mammoth yarn of cops and thugs, film-stars and financiers, unspools at Dickensian length – and with Dickensian zest. — The Independent (UK).

…you will miss Sacred Games when you have finished, but that will be good reason to start reading it again. — Annete Bayne, The Citizen (South Africa).

…brings modern Bombay to teeming life… Chandra goes beyond the genre to produce a portrait not just of crime but of India… — The First Post (UK).

Vikram Chandra’s massive novel… is not only an extraordinary narrative but also a brilliant commentary on India’s underworld of crime and international intrigue, mostly during the past dozen years – in short, unforgettable… For all its surface adventures, for its disturbing characters, even for its relentless narrative, Sacred Games needs to be taken seriously as a disturbing commentary on fanaticism disguised as patriotism. Vikram Chandra begs us to understand that nationalism has become the latest refuge of the scoundrel. – Charles R. Larson, The Daily Star (Bangladesh).

Chandra’s writing has all the edginess of a classic police procedural but, by drawing on contemporary history, he produces far more than a crime caper. This is a novelist with a flair for characterisation and an ambitious reach. — Sophie Ratcliffe, Telegraph (UK).

…a crime thriller that’s also a richly detailed epic about modern Bombay, and by extension India itself. — Katie Owen, Telegraph (UK).

…every [page] is chockfull of intrigue, colour and slang so spicy that it requires no translating. — Hephzibah Anderson, Mail on Sunday (UK).

Vikram Chandra has achieved the near-impossible. He has constructed a superbly realized world of alien languages, customs and styles, presented on the page without apologies or explanations, and has somehow created a wholly believable universe. That fact that this world actually exists, and is, in fact, modern-day India, makes his achievement all the more astonishing… Now, in a fiction cunningly disguised as a straightforward crime drama, Chandra comes into his own, harnessing his narrative powers to reveal an India of “aged-and-cured wickedness,” in all its “piquant scandals, its bitter breakdowns, its ferociously musty unfairness… its resplendent and rotting flesh…”  Chandra might have been content to simply concentrate on the crime elements, resulting in a lean, bloody entertainment of blackmail, double-crosses and bullets, but there is a heft and passion at work that elevates the plot from its pulpy origins.

The expansive breadth of Sacred Games reveals a truly Dickensian world view of events and people “randomly tossed about and nudging into each other, splitting each other’s lives apart.”

Sacred Games, like India, is massive, intimidating, and violent, and, like India, it somehow manages to weave its many elements together, to become something altogether original and special. — Corey Redecop, Winnipeg Free Press (Canada).

In Sacred Games, the enormous new novel by Vikram Chandra, we read compulsively, unable to put the book down…
Once you open it, it owns you…  Dismissing this book as a crime novel is like calling Crime and Punishment a thriller. Sacred Games is the definition of a psychological novel: These characters don’t drink a cup of chai without investigating their motivations, locating their actions on the Great Wheel, honing their moral imperatives. Is it possible to shrug off our hold on this small thing called our life? Is that the natural effect of aging? Is it wrong to strive? Does it make you less human, or more? Questions like these are scattered across the fabric of the narrative like so many tiny mirrors on an embroidered orange cloth…
The act of reading this book opens your inner eye wide to the textures of the country, especially to Chandra’s beloved Mumbai and its suburbs, but beyond that as well: the contours of the landscape, the mountains, the dirt-farms, the barely controlled gorgeous chaos. Chandra’s what-would-otherwise-be-arrogance (except he gets away with it so completely) of peppering his book until it’s hot with Hindi, Punjabi and other Indian languages (hence the glossary) reminds me of Cormac McCarthy’s Spanish dialogue in his Border Trilogy. It’s like living abroad: the context’s the thing, and besides, the language makes you feel like you’re there…

Sacred Games is huge—as big as ambition, as consuming as love, as deep as compassion and as grand as India itself. Open your heart to it, bhai, and it will absorb you. — Erica Eisdorfer, The Carrboro Citizen (Canada).

[Chandra] immerses the reader in a rich and utterly convincing world… Every act, Sacred Games suggests, sends out ripples, ramifies in ways that cannot be foreseen or controlled. In such a vision, the ultimate folly of political and ethnic divisiveness, of hatreds and vendettas, is sharply illuminated. This is the insight of karma, one of India’s great spiritual gifts to the world. Chandra’s unique achievement is to bring this insight to the genre of the detective novel, crafting a monumental portrait of interwoven lives that lingers with a reader long after the case is closed. — Thomas Wharton, The Globe and Mail (Canada).

Vikram Chandra’s exquisite cops and robbers tale breaks the mold of the contemporary Indian novel, bringing Mumbai — in all its chaos — gloriously to life… The popular novels of the Victorian era hung on tales of inheritance and marriage; the popular fiction of our day hangs on crime. And so Sacred Games is a cops and robbers tale, albeit a vast and exquisitely constructed one…
“It’s too filmi,” characters in Sacred Games often say, meaning that some situation or suggestion or even film too much resembles the glossy, overblown melodramas in the Bollywood movies they all watch obsessively.

Sacred Games, though often suspenseful, is never filmi. Although the meat of this novel clings to the bones of a crime story, and there’s certainly plenty of crime in it, the book is really a passionate tribute to contemporary India in all its vigor and vulgarity. Because it’s not a family saga, it blessedly avoids what have become the clichés of the Indian literary novel; you will find no moldering colonial mansion here, with a couple of colorful, bickering, scolding aunties rattling around inside, and no brainy, ambitious young lad who becomes enamored of British culture to the point of losing his own. Chandra’s characters are thoroughly modern, and Mumbai is the center of the universe as far as they’re concerned. Some minor players, whose stories are robustly sketched in interludes Chandra calls “insets,” broaden the canvas further; they include a double agent working with Islamist militants in London, a teenage girl in suburban Virginia and, most riveting, a farm boy turned scholar turned Marxist guerrilla turned small-time gang leader.

By the end of the book that kinship [between Sartaj and Gaitonde] comes into focus as the threat to Mumbai grows ever closer, giving Sacred Games a satisfying completeness that’s all too rare among today’s baggy, doorstop novels.

The biggest threat to Chandra’s Mumbai might seem to be religious friction (the characters are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian) in a nation whose commitment to secular democracy has wobbled under many sectarian blows. Sartaj’s mother lost her beloved sister in the Hindu-Muslim riots during the Partition of India and Pakistan in the 1940s, and Mumbai itself was reconfigured by the unrest following the destruction of the Babri Mosque in the early 1990s, both depicted in Sacred Games. But Chandra takes an even longer view; to him the battle is literally between life and death, between those who understand that this world is necessarily chaotic, flawed and painful and those whose craving for order, calm and purity make them so very, very dangerous. Finally, the choice is not between believer and infidel, or even between good and evil, but between Mumbai and the grave. — Laura Miller, Salon.com (USA).

Sacred Games does not wear Mumbai as a heart on its sleeve. In its depiction of the truly slimy and creepy dark side of the city, it almost brutally tears apart the illusions that Mumbaikars hold about Mumbai. Forget streets paved with gold. The streets are not paved at all. And the city celebrated for its acceptance and open-mindedness is revealed to be not quite as its middle class residents believe.

Yet, because it is so honest about the city, Sacred Games is another love song to Mumbai. Nowhere else in fiction has the city, its people and its obsessions been delineated in such detail. Though the picture that emerges is far from pretty, Mumbai, eventually, turns out to be beautiful. — Hindustan Times Sunday (India).

It is tempting to describe the sprawling novel Sacred Games as a potboiler, the Indian answer to The Godfather. Simplistically, that description would fit, but it wouldn’t account for a story that outweighs the heft of the volume that holds it.Vikram Chandra’s narrative is greater than a gangster story or a cinematic rendering of Indian life, or even an epic battle of good against evil. Chandra reduces humanity to its most basic common denominators, and he does it in a tale thoroughly rooted in Indian history, language and culture. The result is not at all foreign but, instead, recognizable and understandable. This is a work that can not only suck a reader in, but also turn an outlaw who should be thoroughly despicable into a heroic figure… The tale is enriched by a swirling cast of secondary characters, all of whom eventually have a connection to one of the two men. Mathur, Singh’s counterpart in the investigation, is the protégé of a man who once ran Gaitonde as an intelligence operative. The dead woman in the bunker is much more than the prostitute she first appears. Even Singh’s deceased father, once a member of the police force, has a bearing on the investigation. The resulting web, intricate and large, comes together in the novel’s startling, unexpected climax… [This is a] a grand story that is carefully and passionately told. The final chapters, leading to the reason for Gaitonde’s death, are breathtaking, as is Chandra’s attention to the detail of character and circumstance. The work is so lovely, and so subtle, that it’s well worth the cover price. — Robin Vidimos, The Denver Post.

An astonishingly engaging tome… A riveting description of the gang-ridden climate of mid-90s Mumbai… Chandra takes us on a journey with fully realized characters and visceral intensity, invoking India’s colors, vernacular, heat and energy in a way that only an “insider” can… can be easily acknowledged as a literary masterpiece. — Indulge Magazine (USA).

According to the oft-cited study “Reading at Risk,” which was published by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2004, the number of Americans who read literary fiction for pleasure is fast approaching the number of adults who opt for elective tracheotomies. That’s my nightmare take on the future of literature on especially glum days. But then along comes a bold, fresh and big–really big–novel like Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games, and all those pessimistic predictions vanish…  It cheers me up that in this age of waning attention spans and apparently waning interest in literature, Chandra didn’t take a safer route and say, produce a slim work of fiction about relationships. Instead, he’s gone ahead and written a doorstopper of a challenging urban novel, and best of all, not only does Sacred Games deserve praise for its ambitions but also for its terrific achievement. Maybe literature as a pastime is sinking under the tide of technology. If so, Sacred Games, given its size and buoyancy, makes an excellent life raft for those folks determined to hold on to the pleasures of sustained reading…

When, as a reader, you reach the last page of Sacred Games, you feel as though you’ve been expelled from a world that, over weeks of reading, has come to feel like a second home. — Maureen Corrigan, “Fresh Air,” NPR (USA).

The novel oscillates splendidly between its two central characters… Chandra makes an enormous meal of Mumbai, the metropolis once called Bombay, each ingredient sharp and memorable… The imagery can be stunning… submerging in [Sacred Games], like the Ganges itself, can restore your wonder. — Karen Long, The Plain Dealer (USA).

Indian-born author Vikram Chandra originally set out to craft a clear-cut crime thriller about cops and robbers in the teeming city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay). To say his novel grew, both in size and literary merit, would be an understatement of vast proportion.

His 900-page phone-book-of-a-novel, is one of the most hotly anticipated books of the new year – a crime story with outsized literary ambitions and a price tag that is rumored to have come in at $1 million. In short, it’s a book that comes loaded with enormous expectations.

I’m happy to report that those expectations are fulfilled – with gusto… Sacred Games becomes much more than the sum of its spiraling parts… a colossal, keenly imagined, Byzantine detective story…

Then there’s the structure, spider-webbed like a crack in a window across time and space… “If you want to live in the city you have to think ahead three turns, and look behind a lie to see the truth and then behind that truth to see a lie,” says Gaitonde, recalling one of the lessons of his youth. One could say as much about the ample splendor of Sacred Games. Much more than a simple exercise in crime fiction, Chandra’s tour de force is ambitious in all its facets. With its striking prose, ruthless capacity for violence and Gordian composition, Sacred Games offers up a world worthy of the effort required to take it all in. — Clayton Moore, Rocky Mountain News (USA).

This is a ravishing, overexuberant stab at the Great Indian Novel, an extraordinary work of fiction that will reward you in full for your investment of time… There’s a superabundance of tumultuous narrative, acres of magnificent prose, and maybe a dozen too many characters. Yet these unruly parts ultimately fit together into a chaotic and luminous whole, one that mirrors Chandra’s capacious vision of his homeland. — Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly (USA).

Go ahead, call this 900-page epic a Mumbai Godfather. But it’s also the ultimate subcontinental noir. That Inspector Sartaj Singh gives in to corruption simply makes him practical. It’s in the air, mixed with the tar and tandoori and gunsmoke that smell like home to him and to his superbly rendered foe, the arch-gangster Ganesh Gaitonde, whose narration of his own rise and fall is the meat of the book. But even as Chandra digresses to depict the horrors of partition, he stays in the skin of his characters, never resorting to DeLillo-ish atmospherics… any book that makes palpable a very foreign city, explores deep moral questions, and teaches you lots of dirty Hindi is well worth lugging around. — New York Magazine (USA).

Sacred Games is also a cocky experiment with the conventions of a thriller, breaking every rule a film director tells Gaitonde is necessary for a successful formula film… Sacred Games is sweaty, bloody, and unapologetically melodramatic. It’s raucous… It’s comic… In the end, the book is about this city, the dream factory of India, which remakes everyone and no one is what he seems… In those few inches that separate the myth from the reality, Chandra gives a startling, blood-pumping fallible humanity to his characters. — Sandip Roy, San Francisco Chronicle (USA).

One of the remarkable achievements in Vikram Chandra’s stunning new novel, Sacred Games is its portrayal of the all-encompassing, ingrained nature of the corruption in Mumbai… [Sacred Games] is a landmark work, a novel so ambitious and fully achieved it makes most American crime novelists — the Lehanes, the Pelecanos, even the Ellroys — seem naive and timid by comparison… As much as it is a multi-lingual dazzler of ambitious fiction, it’s a rich, riveting thriller.

And the fact is that many readers seek out precisely this kind of full-immersion experience in a novel, an education into an entire world different from their own. Sacred Games more than supplies this — here, there is family, faith, a romantic affair, a sexual obsession, blackmail, betrayal, a city on the brink of chaos, and all of it is lyrically, lovingly conveyed. Sacred Games is one of the very few 900-page novels of recent vintage that as I read it, I was always eager for more. — Jerome Weeks, ArtsJournal.com (USA).

Sacred Games is one of those books you immerse yourself in, a passport to an alien world and, like life, you imagine it could go on forever. It envisions a world – an underworld, actually – that is complete, persuasive and startlingly original. — Tom Beer, Newsday (USA).

Many of those who have written most compellingly about the Indian subcontinent, from Rudyard Kipling to Salman Rushdie, have demonstrated a powerful knack for applying miniaturist detail to epic-size histories. Vikram Chandra’s newest novel, Sacred Games… is a paid-in-full member of this distinguished club: a genre-bending, multilayered saga… Chandra’s expertly paced and nuanced unfolding of Gaitonde’s life is interwoven with narratives that delve into the lives of various satellite characters… While Sacred Games takes an all-encompassing look at crucial issues facing modern-day India… thanks to its muscular prose and Chandra’s obvious fondness for even his most deeply flawed characters, the book also succeeds as an entertainment extravaganza: a detective novel in full, and then a good deal more. — Jenny Feldman, Elle magazine (USA).

Chandra’s ambitious, sprawling novel combines the attractions of 19th-century fiction and a modern police procedural… Like Chandra’s book, Singh’s investigation adds up to much more than appears on the surface, and we read eagerly… — Francine Prose, “Critics Choice,” People magazine (USA).

[Sacred Games is] Chandra’s sweeping, sprawling, and jaw-dropping new novel. It is, more than anything else, literary magic… Sacred Games is monstrously entertaining, conjuring images of a literary duet between John Irving and Vikram Seth with a dollop of Mario Puzo thrown in for good measure… Expect critics and readers to gush over Gaitonde as soon as they get their hands on Sacred Games. He is a stunning creation: a real-life monster… Chandra prefers pointillism to broad strokes, adopting the Tolstoyan method many attempt but few achieve… Chandra himself never lacks for style – or substance. Without seeming to break a sweat in the broiling heat of Mumbai, he gathers up the bursting city without turning eloquence into grandiloquence. Social mores, dirty jokes, and idiosyncrasy abound… [Sacred Games] is the rarest of creations, an irresistible story that you simply cannot keep out of your head, one that entertains long after you have stayed up too late reading.

Go ahead. Close the book, turn out the lights. Even then, Ganesh Gaitonde, Sartaj Singh, and their many friends and enemies will whisper in your ear, beckoning from Mumbai and its jarring, joyous madness. Talk about an offer you can’t refuse. — Erik Spanberg, The Christian Science Monitor (USA).

Sacred Games is a complex, mesmerizing story of crime and punishment in modern Mumbai… It’s hard to do justice to the richness and vitality of this story — it’s a full-immersion experience, as if Dickens had written The Godfather and placed it in India… I’ve rarely read a book with such a rich depth of characters. Vikram Chandra isn’t satisfied to just sketch in his players. Each one has his or her own story, and those stories together create a compelling picture of a unique place. At the same time, each story is also an integral part of the plot. Those stories, those glimpses at the myriad subgroups that comprise the city and those uniquely individual people who are drawn into the investigation, give the story its great resonance and depth… Sacred Games is a superb book, one that will take you into an exotic and fascinating place and tell you a great story. You may need to hang in there a bit until you get used to the unfamiliar names and expressions, but it’s well worth it. — Rick Sullivan, The Grand Rapids Press (USA).

The novel opens with the spiteful killing of a white Pomeranian named Fluffy. This is perhaps Mr. Chandra’s sly way of alerting us to the entanglements that follow. His novel is one of the most brilliant shaggy dog tales I’ve read in recent years. Ostensibly a detective novel, in which a lurid panoply of murders unfurls in gruesome detail, Sacred Games, despite its length, is compulsively readable. Clever as the plot and subplots are, the characters carry the narrative. Sartaj Singh, the detective who figured in Mr. Chandra’s last book, Love and Longing in Bombay (2006), is wonderfully realized, as is his gangster antagonist. But the other personages, from Parulkar, Singh’s corrupt superior, to Zoya Mirza, the rising Bollywood star, to the sinister swami Shridhar Shukla, along with a dozen others, change and deepen as the novel unwinds. Even the side stories, such as the passing anecdote of Talpade, a policeman who falls chastely in love with a saloon dancer named Kukoo and comes to grief, linger in the memory.
Mr. Chandra makes no concessions to the non-Indian reader, but this somehow strengthens his novel… Despite initial puzzlement, this too works. It gives the creeping impression for non-Indian readers that we’re eavesdropping on uncensored conversations… This is a novel of voices, each of which is unmistakable. For while stories link the characters, from the poor in their hovels to the rich in their high-rises, the smutty aura of Mumbai arises from the prose itself. To re-create a city Mr. Chandra has fashioned a language equal to it, a promiscuous English open to all comers, as greedy and as vivid as Mumbai itself. — Eric Ormsby, The New York Sun (USA).

Great books create their necessity, though, and if you can lift this tremendous story into your shopping cart, bring it home and read it, you’ll probably wonder how you got by so long without it… It is a terrific, brilliant, earthmover of a book… One of the miraculous things about Sacred Games is that these [untranslated] details, which look so foreign out of context, are actually a large part of its appeal. Chandra has decided he is going to wave with a beckoning finger to a world only he can show. — John Freeman, Newcity Chicago (USA).

Ten pages into this novel, and you know that Vikram Chandra either spent years researching it or is blessed with a keenness of observation ordinary mortals can only dream of… A wily survivor, the inspector [Sartaj Singh] makes the best of circumstances, and it is to Chandra’s credit that he imbues his protagonist with such touching humanity that the character, warts and all, wins the reader’s empathy… Sacred Games features a Dickensian cast and action replete with Bollywood starlets, plastic surgery, and “nippy star natter.” A source of constant joy in this sprawling fantasyland is that people with such differing personalities, with such offbeat worries and cares, can live – or, should one say, be allowed to exist – within the confines of this booming metropolis. — Vikram Johri, The Philadelphia Inquirer (USA).

Chandra pulls strings with a puppeteer’s mastery, connecting each disclosure of a concealed affiliation or conspiracy with what has gone before, whetting our appetites for ever more mayhem, depravity, and intrigue.

The combination of an elephantine plot with a clockmaker’s precise deployment of its sinister particulars is certainly attention-getting. So is the exotic setting.

Yet it’s the characters who haunt us. Sartaj’s tarnished integrity and Ganesh’s perverted organizational genius hover over the novel like imperiled twin peaks, and there’s something almost Homeric in the fateful intensity of their opposition…  Few readers will be un-enthralled, despite a profusion of untranslated Hindi words (a “partial glossary” is provided). Like Dickens before him, Chandra has blended a blood-and-thunder page-turner with an exhaustive and illuminating anatomy of a society. “Every man or woman you arrested . . . was part of some web,” Sartaj reminds himself. It’s a rare pleasure to be arrested by this novel’s thunderous momentum, and caught up in its web. —  Bruce Allen, The Boston Globe (UK).

[Sacred Games] requires a time commitment… but the tale is worth the investment… The interplay and convergence of the two stories make for an enthralling experience. Nothing is left untouched — including the reader. — Vikas Turakhia, The Columbus Dispatch (USA).

Chandra is a prodigiously talented wordsmith with passion and boundless aspiration, and his intent here is obvious: Sacred Games is his ambitious, ostentatious shot at the Great Indian Novel. It is an extraordinary work of fiction and a literary accomplishment of the highest order — artful, educational, and one-of-a-kind… Sacred Games overflows with turbulent narrative, mountains of breathtaking prose, and more than a few too many characters (the two-page dramatis personae at the front makes for a nice disclaimer). Yet this riotous miscellany ultimately coalesces into a whole that comes exquisitely close to encapsulating the voluminous essence of a fascinating land. — Tim Robinson, The Hamilton Spectator (USA).

What keeps the reader interested is Chandra’s total mastery of character and atmosphere. Great sheets of characterization wash over the reader like monsoon rains, but all the characters, and there are dozens, ring absolutely true. They become real people, who the reader invests heavily in, even when they’re unpleasant. The city of Mumbai, with its crowds, poverty, heat and pollution, is also a major player here… Chandra does things few western writers would attempt, like continuing the story of one police officer’s family after that character has died, or the 62-page inset in which he ties up the deaths of five minor characters at the end, after the story’s major events have finished. He does it all so well, though, that you just go along with it… It’s a big, sprawling novel, full of murder and slang, but also music, humanity and rewarding insight. If you’re looking for a novel that you can get lost in for weeks at a time over these winter nights, this is the one. — Barry Hammond, Edmonton Journal (Canada).

When [an intelligence agent] informs Sartaj that the crime boss’s demise may be just a prelude to a frightening future event, the game is on and the novel expands into a pulsing thriller in which the soul of all Bombay is at stake… In Sacred Games, Chandra has surpassed his previous works, both in beauty and in bulk… The splendor of Chandra’s prose is quite enough to enrapture a reader for 900 pages.Whatever challenge Sacred Games presents to Western readers, the payoff is grand and satisfying. — Skye K. Moody, The Seattle Times (USA).

Mr. Chandra brilliantly evokes a diverse slice of the population of Mumbai, a city that comes alive in Sacred Games in all its vibrant chaos… Perhaps Mr. Chandra’s greatest strength is the compassion and understanding he has for all his flawed and needy characters. — Henny Sender, The Wall Street Journal (USA).

When I’d finished all 900 pages, I felt bereft. From the first, savagely funny paragraph (it requires a health warning for dog lovers) it’s a crackerjack, even if you’re not familiar with Indian obscenities. — Chris Patten, New Statesman (UK).

Like a sculptor making small, delicate chips in stone, Chandra moves things along at a measured pace, building his characters, finding glorious little details in the minutiae of everyday Bombay life, yet remaining sharply focused on the main thrust of his detective story. Perhaps what is so compelling about the first third of Sacred Games is the way Chandra opens up the guts of the Bombay police department… But Chandra’s is a first for Indian fiction, and in its realism, its torrents of cop banter and casual slurs, and moments of poignant ordinariness–Sartaj’s restless, lonely nights–one is reminded of Bertrand Tavernier’s gritty movie L.627, John Burdett’s Bangkok thrillers and even the world-weary law-enforcement heroes in the novels of Joseph Wambaugh and Richard Price… What breathes new life into [Gaitonde’s] story is the pungently metaphorical voice Chandra gives Gaitonde, an alliterative and lyrical English blended with basti Hindi that makes him as engaging a narrator as Martin Amis’s John Self in Money

Many of the characters in Sacred Games fantasize the destruction of their own city, as if governed by a collective death wish. “Maybe one day it’ll all just fall apart,” Sartaj muses, “and there was a certain gratification in that thought too. Let the maderchod” — motherfucker — “blow.”

But this death wish reaches truly phantasmagoric proportions when Guru-ji plans to unleash nuclear fire on Bombay. And it is this prospect of nuclear annihilation that restores Sartaj’s affection for his city–as well as Chandra’s love and longing for it; Bombay, from now on, emerges more strongly as a metaphysical presence. Sartaj rages, “What do these bastards have against Bombay? They don’t mention any other cities?” Gaitonde, too, is shaken by the thought of Bombay being reduced to a million “stinking corpses,” to the point of breaking with Guru-ji. Thus the two parallel narrative lines that Gaitonde and Sartaj inhabit become fused; across the thick of time and space the cop and the gangster become, in a sense, allies in their attempt to save Bombay from annihilation.

Sacred Games quakes with seismic historical shocks, as if Chandra were intent on blasting open India’s historically amnesiac present, a time when India (or at least its media and its political class) is intoxicated by its glorious future. Chandra telescopes the past through the present with a series of historical insets into the narrative, reminding readers, as if he were an adept in palmistry, that “the shape of the future” lies “in the lines of the past…”

…one of these insets, “The Great Game,” is exemplary. “The Great Game”–which ostensibly recounts the attempts of Anjali, Sartaj’s handler from Indian intelligence, to prize from her dying mentor the real story of the Indian secret state’s associations with Gaitonde–is a journey into the splinters of Indian history, a secret index, one might say, of post-colonial India, the creation of its intelligence wings, its secret and not-so-secret wars with Pakistan, China and itself. What we get here is an occult history worthy of Borges. The dying mentor boasts that Anjali “has no choice but to be a realist. I trained her, I taught her tradecraft, analysis, recognition, action. I drew her into the secret world, into our troubles, into the web of secret causes.” Readers may never quite recover from these historical depth charges; when we return to the novel’s main thread it’s as if we can hear the historical tectonic plates shifting beneath Sartaj’s and Gaitonde’s feet…

…Chandra pulls off some extraordinary writing. The last hours of Gaitonde’s life–his final dialogue with the murdered woman before their deaths, the last of a series of fabulous exchanges between them–are electrifying, a baroque distillation of all that has gone on before. Sacred Games’s legacy might prove similar to that of Chandra’s brother-in-law’s film Parinda: By extending the territory of Indian literary fiction, it will allow others to tell crime stories of their own. Chandra’s ultimate achievement is both as a genre novelist and as a novelist who uses genre elements. Solving the crime is important, but he also hands us the keys to the city and reveals its sordid mysteries. — Carl Bromley, The Nation (USA)

Once in a while you find a book that sucks you so thoroughly into the world it creates that each time you slip your bookmark between the pages and close the cover, you come up blinking, surprised to find yourself in your own skin again. Vikram Chandra’s intricate Sacred Games is just such a novel.

Sacred Games can be read and enjoyed as an edge-of-your-seat thriller. It has plenty of action, violence and blood — and if you can’t curse fluently in Hindi when you’re done with it, then you weren’t paying attention. But Chandra’s surehanded writing injects the novel with layers of depth and meaning; he captures history, politics, current events race, class and religion. He clearly loves Mumbai and evokes it in dazzling detail: You can smell the streets, taste the foods and hear the cacophony of the big, chaotic city on every page. And through his evocation of the Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Christians who interact with each other in this crowded nation, we see how old wounds and new hurts can spark into sudden violence.

In the 928 pages of Sacred Games, Chandra has a lot of space to stretch out. He uses it to show how the strands of people bound together through family, loyalty or simple geography weave a web that is as interconnected as it is inescapable. — Miriam Wolf, The Sunday Oregonian (USA).

…complex, mesmerizing… It’s hard to do justice to the richness and vitality of this story — it’s a full-immersion experience, as if Dickens had written The Godfather and placed it in India… I’ve rarely read a book with such a rich depth of characters. Sacred Games is a superb book, one that will take you into an exotic and fascinating place and tell you a great story. — Rick Sullivan, Grand Rapids Press (USA).

It’s been an awfully long time since I’ve been so excited by a book that I wanted to finish it so I could write a review and tell everybody how amazing it is. Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra is one of those books. It’s so good that you resent having to do anything else at all during your day except read it. Who wants to eat, go to the bathroom, sleep, go to work, or any number of other trivial matters when you could be reading Sacred Games?

Every single character is so fully drawn and real and you can visualize them so well that you’d recognize them walking along the street if you came across them. Not just by a physical description either, but by the look in their eyes, the manner in which an emotion affects them, and by the energy they exude. You’d swear that Chandra was looking over the midwives’ shoulder on the day each character was born, so intimate and detailed is the vision we have of each of them…

Sacred Games is a magnificent book in all the meanings of that word. At 900 pages long it might seem intimidating, but don’t be put off by that. You’ll want it to be longer, you’ll want to linger among its pages like you would linger over a meal in a great restaurant where the company has been interesting, and the tastes amazing… it’s a great story, with amazing characters, and incredible atmosphere written by a superlative writer, what more could you ask for?  Richard Marcus, Blogcritics.org.

The book is so good, it can even headline above the return of Norman Mailer… — The Phoenix (USA).

…a fresh, absorbing read… impossibly rich… — NY Daily News (USA).

Sacred Games is storytelling at its very peak. Characters leap off the page to punch one in the gut, the narrative keeps the reader panting to know what happens next for every one of its 900 pages, and the author’s mastery of his subject — nothing less than India itself — makes the novel as redolent of the country as skinny-dipping into a vat of hot sambhar.

The book is filled with non-English words (a mix of Hindi and Marathi, for the most part). The conversation is sauced with a vast range of expletives, all again in Bombay-talk, and the setting is a Bombayite’s Bombay. There are knowing references to yaars and chaavis, to bastis and kholis; many of the terms will be incomprehensible to people from, say, the south of India, let alone the California where Chandra teaches (creative writing at UC Berkeley).

Here, then, is an India being offered on its own terms to the reader, who may be Indian or non-Indian; familiar or unfamiliar with the country; and significantly — a reader whose identity is not key to the creation of the work. Self-assured and confident about its audience, the narrative never pauses to elaborate upon its many references to events in Indian history, the Bombay film industry, or even Indian street food…

If you’ve been underwhelmed by recent writing from India that, with a few exceptions, seems all too predictable in image and language, writing that wears its post-colonial heart on its sleeve and its reliance on the plot devices of arranged marriage and East-meets-West on its dust jacket — then run, don’t walk towards Sacred Games. This thrilling, epic work is nothing less than a kick to the seat of the pants of recent Indian literature…

Sacred Games will leave some readers wondering how the city’s inhabitants retain their sanity and dignity in this brutal, cynical environment — and others asking how anyone could bear to leave the exuberant chaos of this megapolis to emigrate to quiet gray shores…

If Sacred Games were a film, the audience would be arguing whether Sartaj was hero or villain even before the credits scrolled on, Ebert would face off with Roeper, and Madonna would sport a t-shirt proclaiming “I heart Ganesh Gaitonde”. Of course, if we lived in a just universe, the book would suffice to create the buzz. — Niranjana Iyer, Asian Review of Books.

Sacred Games will be talked for a long time yet, and for years to come may be the measuring stick for many books based in India. Ginger Haycox, Blogcritics.org.

Vikram Chandra’s Mumbai mammoth of a literary thriller about cops and thugs, film-stars and financiers, unspools with Dickensian brio and at Dickensian length, but seldom loses its touch for street-smart observation and suspense. — Boyd Tomkin, “Books of the Year,” Independent (UK).

Chandra takes you inside the world of a Bombay cop. After reading the book, you’ll swear you know precisely how to collect a bribe from a nightclub owner, how to count the money in a glance, and where to find the smart fellow who will shift the loot to a Swiss bank account. Rarely entirely honest or entirely rotten, Chandra’s Bombay exists in a penumbra of moral ambiguity—which is why Sacred Games is one of the best novels about India in a long time. — Aravind Adiga, “10 Best Asian Books of 2006,” Time (Asia edition).

Of 2006’s doorstops, Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games… proved well worth the eye — and wrist — strain, burrowing deep into the criminal underworlds of contemporary Mumbai. — Hephzibah Anderson, “Best Fiction of 2006,” Guardian (UK).

Epic, sprawling deptiction of Bombay’s seedy underworld by one of Inda’s master storytellers. Its protagonist, inspector Sartaj Singh, has earned a place among the world’s outstanding fictional detectives. One of the most exhilarating reads of 2006. — “Books of the Year,” Financial Times (UK).

Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games is already being hailed as a masterpiece… this was only the second 900-page novel in my life that I never wanted to come to an end… — Sandipan Deb, Indian Express (India).

Mumbai is the show-stealing backdrop to this complex literary thriller, seven years in the writing and 900 pages long. Its hero is a Sikh policeman named Sartaj Singh, who is divorced, on the wrong side of 40 and resigned to career stagnation when an unexpected tip-off leads him deep into the city’s underworld. His quarry is India’s most wanted gangster, and the plot touches on Bollywood, the arms trade and plastic surgery, reeling in a cast that’s Dickensian in its size and variety. — Bloomberg.com (USA).

There’s a vicarious excitement that you feel through the blood and gore of Sacred Games. A bewildering feeling that violence, poetry, hope, destruction and love all come together in this epic-of-sorts, to create a throbbing portrait of a city caught in the swirl of history….

Interrupting these parallel stories [of Sartaj and Ganesh] are “insets” which introduce other characters, other events which thicken the plot; these throw you initially, but then the pieces fall into place, and the circle is completed by the time you return to the “main” story. The wide scope of the novel is completed leisurely, in satisfying physical and atmospheric detail, and a kind of gleeful pinning down of the right word at the right time… You grow into the story, and the stories coiled within it, into the restlessness of the characters, trapped as they are by some ghost, some vulnerability. The language is remarkably elastic, bringing a grainy, coarse texture to the narrative, as well as a moving poetry.

In the end, Sacred Games is a “hard-boiled” thriller with razor-sharp edges, asking questions that unsettle and then don’t let you go. In the same way that fears grip both Sartaj and Ganesh, control them, don’t let them sleep. — First City magazine (India).

Comments from booksellers in Booksense (USA):

Fabulous! What a great reading experience, intimate and over-the-top at the same time. This is going to be a lot of fun to sell, and perfect for those long nights in January. — Tobias Cox, Three Lives & Co.

Sacred Games is truly a marvelous book. Vikram Chandra is a weaver. He has created a richly drawn, finely detailed, intricately layered tapestry of post-colonial life in India… This is a suspense and intrigue-filled cops and gangsters story of great substance set against the backdrop of contemporary India and the profound difficulties it faces in the world today. — Patrick Gaffey, Maria’s Bookshop, Durango, CO

With a gorgeous prose style, completely engaging characters and a twisting, suspenseful plot, this is a novel that seems short at 900 pages! — Carol Schneck, Schuler Books

The story is told with such richness and complexity of character that I didn’t want it to ever end! — Mark Laframbroise, Politics and Prose Bookstore

Spell-binding! Sacred Games far surpassed my expectations. The mafia angle always sells well, but Chandra’s prose elevates it to literary masterpiece. Chandra has captured that electrifying, addictive quality of India. — Julie Welter, Joseph Beth Books

A lush, sprawling novel of lives both large and small… beautifully written and constructed, this exceptional novel is both fast moving and profound. It is an impressive work of surprising and sublime resonance which remains with the reader long after the last page is turned. — Tova Beisner, Brown Bookstore

It has been a long time since a novel has gripped me from the first sentence. It is Victorian in scope and also surreal in description… [Sacred Games] is great storytelling transcended by bigger concerns of universal and very contemporary concerns. — Michael Fraser, Joseph Beth Books

My god, what a book. I love the way that the characters fit together like a jigsaw puzzle and their stories fall into place, piece by piece. I love the way that violence and politics and terror are woven into the plot without sacrificing any of the other threads, and the way that Bombay becomes the central character. So many thanks for giving it to me–I can’t wait to sell it. — Janet Brown, Elliott Bay

Incredibly engaging and rich….It has the potential to regain lost fiction readers who are reading much less fiction and living off HBO shows like The Sopranos… It will appeal to men, women and readers of literary fiction as well as of good crime novelists. — Tim Huggins, Newtonville Books

“I loved, loved, and loved it. What a fabulous opening it has! The good, the bad and the ugly are all through the book, but Chandra writes about them with such affection and regard that it’s impossible not to care about them… Thank you for bringing it to me! — Felice Farrell, Bookstream

I am reading the Chandra now, and you’re right, it’s great. It’s been a while since I’ve read an addictive book. Feels good. — Sarah McNally, McNally Robinson

Sacred Games, the first big novel of 2007, is full of astonishing surprises. HarperCollins is marketing the book as a kind of Indian Godfather, which is accurate I suppose, but it’s a bit like describing Bleak House as a legal thriller… The novel takes place in Mumbai (Bombay), which Chandra evokes with the same vivid intensity that Dickens brings to his descriptions of London. Then the novel blows open into something much more ambitious—a book that sets out to chronicle the Indian experience since independence. Finally, Sacred Games changes again , into something even larger —a novel that describes everyone’s experience in this edgy, apocalyptic first decade of the 21st century…

Sacred Games is eminently readable and accessible. One of its added bonuses is the untranslated Mumbai gangster slang, which gives the narrative a weird, dark energy. This is a bravura performance. I was actually sorry when this huge 900 page novel ended. You must read this book and discover why. — Karl Pohrt, Shaman Drum

A decade ago, Chandra first beguiled readers by invoking ancient Tamil poetry, a typewriting monkey, MTV and more with Red Earth and Pouring Rain. His sophomore effort, Love and Longing in Bombay, a set of interrelated short stories around the metropolis, was as successful. Both were captivating experiments with literary form and structure — Sacred Games, Chandra’s new novel, feels in many ways like a more straightforward exercise. At 900 pages, it reads in suitably unputdownable fashion, like a blockbuster from a modern-day James Ellroy. There is a gripping thread in the stories of Ganesh Gaitonde, a dreaded Mumbai don, and Inspector Sartaj Singh, easily Indian literature’s most engaging cop. And yet Sacred Games is so much more.
It may have taken him three books, but Sacred Games is where Chandra really finds humour through his mastery of irony. This is a brutal and passionate tale, always, but Chandra throughout tempts you to seek meaning above and below the narrative, to smile with pleased recognition at matters both putatively profound — such as Gaitonde’s search for purpose and salvation through a sinister godman — and mundane, as in the care Sartaj’s partner takes to avoid spitting on a carpet he intends liberating from a crime suspect. He even tackles that odious minefield of religious intolerance with style and not a little wit. His characters say what their bigotry leads them to; whether their ultimate arbiter is Islam, Hinduism or Mammon matters little once Chandra artfully exposes the machinations of realpolitik that underlies his themes.

Best of all, he effortlessly draws the reader into a tale that actually isn’t particularly straightforward at all. The story line is determinedly non-linear, the structure episodically jump-cut, very evocative of Donald Barthelme. That master of spare prose might have taken 380 pages to write a comparable tale, but that’s not the point. Don de Lillo might have needed 1,500, and in neither case would these two literary giants have written this gargantuan tale of Bombay/Mumbai and all its little Indias in quite the same heartbreaking, sardonic, funny and violent way…

And comparisons will inevitably be made with two recent heavy-hitters on Bombay. That would be unfair because Gregory Roberts’ Shantaram and Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City are very different books. Despite that, for its compelling characters alone Sacred Games pulls off the near-impossible job of knocking both into the sludge of the Mithi River.
Buy this Rabelaisian masterpiece of mordant homage to Bombay today. Vikram Chandra has set the benchmark for the Bombay novel very high indeed. — Hari Menon, Tehelka (India).

I was a little skeptical about Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games because of all the advance hype. But it far surpassed my expectations. The moment I cracked open this 900-page novel, I was transported to Mumbai. Chandra has captured that gritty, sickeningly sweet, perspiration-soaked, electrifying, addictive quality of India… Chandra has managed to weave the best and worst parts of Mumbai into an utterly spellbinding novel. Though the mafia angle always sells well, it’s more than just “The Godfather in India” — Chandra’s prose elevates it to a literary masterpiece. — Julie Welter, Publishers Weekly (USA).

Vikram Chandra, born in 1961, announced his arrival in 1995 with the publication of a tender, exuberant, unruly novel, Red Earth and Pouring Rain. The book was 500-plus pages and extraordinarily ambitious in its two-fisted, its excessive bravado. His new novel is almost double that size, but it seems trimmer in a way: it tells one big story. A vertiginous crime thriller in the style of a Hindi potboiler, Sacred Games has two heroes, but its true star is the impossible, and impossibly seductive city of Bombay…
[Ganesh Gaitonde is a] ganglord, film-maker, insomniac, spy, piles sufferer, yoga advocate, consumer of Gucci and Armani, taker of boys and virgins, teetotaller, assassin, disillusioned bhakt, patriot, philosopher and visionary, Gaitonde embodies Bombay’s corruption and vitality, its virulent double-or-nothing energy, and its—to use a word that appears several times in this book’s accelerating pages—velocity. Emblematic of the city, this violent, amoral man is also a beacon, a force for good, a benevolent leader and patriarch…

For my money, this is the great Bombay book of the last decade. It gets the city’s corrosive heat, the absolute knockdown democratic fever of it; and it goes some way to explaining why Bombay engenders loyalty among all those who live or have lived there…

And one of the delights, for this reader at least, is the Bambaiyya Hindi, presented without italics, explanation, or apology: the apradhis, khabaris and pocket-maars, the bhais and boys, the gullels and ghodas, the phataks and phachaks, the kutiyas, chaavvis and randis, the bibis and bhabhis, the chutiyas, maderchods and bhenchods, the bidhus, budhaus, bhadves and bhadvis, the mausambis and dudh-ki-tankis, the khaddas and golis, the langotiya yaars and bada dushmans, the dhandas and dandis, the thokos and ghochis, the gaandus, namoonas, haramis, saalis and saalas, the lauda lasoons and langda-lullas. These are words that occur so often in Bombay they can be plucked out of the city’s dirty air. But Chandra has done more. He uses them with such unerring gusto that they become celebratory, incantatory, not a code for insiders but something shared, like a song on the radio. — Jeet Thayil, Outlook (India).

Vikram Chandra’s masterly new novel — exactly 900 pages long — starts with a white pomeranian, Fluffy, flying out of the window in upper-middle-class Mumbai…

The spare, Hitchcockian funniness of the writing — the sense that it creates of schoolgoing ordinariness and urban kitsch erupting into bizarre and brutal catastrophe, and yet the ordinariness somehow managing to hold it all in eventually, in feats of epic-cinematic, divinely comic inclusiveness — is just one of the many ways in which Chandra’s virtuosity unfolds in the novel…
Gaitonde had once seen in Sartaj’s eyes and in his swagger “a policeman’s cruelty”. Sartaj’s cruelty is important for the tone of Chandra’s writing… It is largely because of this alluring mix of coldness and feeling in Sartaj, and in his central, fixing gaze, that Sacred Games is a work of both violence and mourning, compelled as much by a darkly ludic death-wish as by an equally gamesome will to live and look and know…

Embedded in this structure are four “inset” chapters and what might be called two “meta-chapters”. The insets open historical vistas out of and behind the main narratives, extending the novel’s spatial and emotional geography, complicating its relationship with time. The meta-chapters — “The Great Game” and “Ganesh Gaitonde Explores the Self” — provide two ways of taking a god’s eye-view of this vast web of “many-tendrilled” action. The game of Intelligence (played by the dying K.D. Yadav, a pioneering intelligence officer, and his protégée, Anjali Mathur) and Gaitonde’s game of bhaigiri are both forms of deadly play that provide the novel its mutually inextricable plots. But they also provide the systems and strategies by which it would reflect upon itself, make sense of its own treacheries, forge ways of “telling” these meanings as humanly intelligible stories and of seeing them in relation to life’s outgrown symmetries of right and wrong, love and hate, good and evil. The meta-chapters constitute, therefore, the “huge, humming, incandescent mesh” of the novel’s informing intellect, by which information is seen to nest inside information and the “discernment of patterns” becomes possible.

Yet, what holds the novel most profoundly and vitally together, and enables its mastery of the actual as well as the fabulous, the real and the surreal, is the cinema of Mumbai. Bollywood is to Sacred Games what chivalric romance is to Don Quixote — a living, self-perpetuating mythology, a shimmering universe of images and meanings by which people live and die, make, re-make and know (or resist knowing) themselves and the worlds and stories they inhabit. — Aveek Sen, The Telegraph (India).

Chandra casts an enchanting and enthralling spell that documents two tales of two worlds— the Mumbai police and the Mumbai underworld. And garnishes it with many other tales; tales of Partition, tales of adultery and blackmail, tales of espionage and counter espionage, tales that start in Mumbai but journey all the way to the far east and to the backward regions in Bihar.
In doing so, he takes the enigma of Bombay to a new unparalleled high… The Bombay Chandra takes his readers to is familiar and mysterious, friendly and dangerous at the same time…

The story of Katekar and his family, the story of Mary Mascrenas, the story of Prabhjot Kaur, the story of Swami Shridhar Shukla, the story of Aadil Ansari— there are more characters here than you can keep count of and yet surprisingly the narrative holds! Rarely has a story been shared so simply with such subversive intentions. At the end of it the reader empathises as much with the dreaded gangster as with the turbaned policeman — both outsiders, both seeking redemption from their lonely desolate existence. The past, the present and the future blend as they can only in a city of such myriad hopes and multiple dissonances. This is a novelist at the height of his prowess almost sneering at all the academics who would no doubt try to construct and deconstruct this great Indian fable…

Reportedly, Chandra took seven years to pen this epic masterpiece. The effort has well been worth it. For Sacred Games does the impossible. It makes an unwieldy hardcover unputdownable without missing a single literary beat. — Vijay Nair, Deccan Herald (India).

This is an immense, brilliant and bewildering novel. The hardback edition has exactly 900 pages and not one of them is wasted. It took Vikram Chandra seven years to write. I can only hope he has already started on his next book. — Esme Choonara, The Socialist Review (UK).

Audacious and sprawling… masterfully crafted fiction… The multi-layered strata of characters and details are only hinted at in the first drop-in-the-bucket chapters of this gritty and grounded epic, reminiscent of voluminous and character-rich nineteenth-century serial literature as much as modern day hardboiled crime capers… Sacred Games is a story with a lot of breathing room for the capaciousness of well-considered and deliberated delineations and subtleties, replete with uncertainty and doubt, happenstance and hope. Such breadth and depth allows Chandra to tie-in the novel to a wide array of societal issues and philosophic observations, including the inextricable relationships to caste and religion, poverty, and the entrenched criminal element… Actions may speak louder from time to time, but Chandra’s words cut to the heart of many matters as they, too, “get things right.” — Gordon Hauptfleisch, Desicritics.org.

Vikram Chandra never fails to astonish. Almost like a magician conjuring up his latest trick, Chandra, the writer has once again shown his ability to move ahead. Not afraid to experiment, he has drawn a variety of characters to build and share his story… Chandra has pulled off a coup of sorts with a masterpiece that dazzles as it races along the Mumbai skyline… — The Hindu (India).

Chandra’s compelling narrative tells the tales of these [Sartaj Singh and Ganesh Gaitonde] (and of all the lives they touch, shape and colour – and, just as often, end). But Mumbai, the city of which they are so much a part, and which is so much a part of all Chandra’s books, comes alive as not so much a backdrop but as a character in itself. Sacred Games concerns itself with all the big themes: crime, wealth, friendship, honesty, the way we live and love. Most of all, perhaps, it is a novel about Mumbai. It is portrayed as a city of infinite possibilities, capable of magically transforming the lives of some of those who come here for a living: “It could happen. It did happen, and that’s why people kept trying. It did happen. That was the dream, the big dream of Bombay… ”

As was evident in his sparkling, magic-realist debut Red Earth and Pouring Rain (which is told in part by a typing monkey), Chandra is a terrific teller of stories. He has a tremendous sense of narrative pace. Sacred Games is 900 pages long but nowhere does it flag. Amid the sprawl, there is a control and tightness in the writing; the story unfolds and each chapter ends in a manner so tantalising as to make you catch your breath. It is cinematic…

When he started, eight years back, Chandra thought of the book as a 250-page thriller. But as he came to write it, the connections between crime, cops and politics drove him forward. The book began to grow. The result is this doorstopper of a novel. But it says a lot about Sacred Games that length isn’t one of the first things you would mention about it. Form, though, is. Chandra takes the template of the thriller and cleverly subverts it, making it into something quite unlike any other work he has written – or, indeed, anything ever attempted by any Indian writer in English. We are shown here a very Indian reality: frequent allusions to Hindi cinema (Chandra comes from a family of movie-makers and scriptwriters, and has co-scripted a film, Mission Kashmir), expletive-riddled gangster-speak, the stories of the poor and the helpless who get broken and scarred trying to make a living in Mumbai. But Sacred Games is also an “excursion into the pleasures of realism”: the kind of psychological realism that descends from 19th-century European and English fiction. A lot of that psychological realism has to do with a faithful representation of an entire sub-world of organised crime. As is expected in a book in which the central characters no more think of leaving home without their guns than without their wallets, the violence in Sacred Games is explicit, chilling and utterly pervasive…

Gaitonde and Sartaj are both finely imagined characters. When we had first been introduced to Sartaj, he had been married to an affluent wife and because of her wealth had managed to stay out of the web of bribery and corruption in which the police force is always entangled. Here, we are shown how he has become morally compromised; how he, too, accepts bribes. He no longer has his wife’s money to fall back on but there is the suggestion that it goes deeper than that, as though Sartaj has grown too weary to take the effort to remain honest. At the same time, there is a deep self-awareness about how far he has fallen. This Sartaj is more persuasive for his fallibility.

As, indeed, is Gaitonde. Chandra remarkably brings out the fear and the loneliness of the gangster’s life; how, despite his enormous and wealth and reach, he is not really the larger-than-life person that he seems to be to others. “My aim was to make someone like Gaitonde, who sees himself in an epic way, seem palpable and sweaty,” Chandra says.

Then there is the writing; Chandra can beguile us with his images. Describing a “tall, blond foreigner” besieged by urchins and beggars on the seafront, he notes that “The privilege of his white skin and money cost him this minor trial, this swirling comet’s tail of the needy.” There is more beauty in single pages of this book than you’d find in some entire novels.

Finishing this book, Chandra says, felt like “the end of something, but the beginning of I don’t know what”. He is now on a year’s sabbatical from his teaching job at the University of California. Sacred Games is the sort of book that you finish with regret because you won’t any longer have the pleasure of going back to it every day. For having given us that, Chandra deserves more than a mere sabbatical. — Soumya Bhattacharya, The Independent (UK).

Sacred Games, Vikram Chandra’s new epic novel, drags you into the murkiness below the glitz [of Mumbai]. That is its intention. In a colossal romp, Chandra offers a view of Mumbai that many suspect, perhaps have even spoken of, but never confronted… Chandra’s virtuosity of language that alternately thrills and repels, gets down to the basics of life in Mumbai. His skills as a storyteller are intact as are those of his minute and painstaking research into the hearts and minds of his characters. Sacred Games will tempt even the most reluctant reader with the incredible enthusiasm of its huge cast, the energy of its characters and the plots and subplots that make this many-layered story so memorable. Written with a rare combination of humour and anger, it is easy to see why this will become a popular book bordering on the classic. — Suchitra Behal, The Hindu (India).

[Sacred Games] is a progression in confidence and control from [Vikram Chandra’s] first novel… Played out mostly in the Mumbai underworld, Sacred Games is a literary thriller in which stereotypes are humanised and the gray area between good and evil is explored with admirable narrative precision… The game alone matters, and when the players are in the arena, power discards its last moral pretense. The Khiladi No 1 is Ganesh Gaitonde, brutal, pathological, paranoid, charismatic, callous, benevolent, super-sexed, honourable, vain, vulnerable and comical… Gaitonde in his private moments can be as captivating as one of those dictators from the pages of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Mario Vargas Llosa. It is not that hard to admire the craft of Chandra when the winners as well as the losers become parts of a narrative pattern, as elastic as the big, shapeless Russian classics. Characters as fresh as the last news flash and themes as urgent as the morning editorial are not supposed to be there in a literary novel… Bombay, after all, is the most favourite city of India Imagined; it is Rushdie’s “Wombay”. Successive “Bombay chokras” have celebrated its exceptionalism. Chandra does it on a grand scale… — S. Prasannarajan, India Today (India).

One of Sacred Games’ strengths is that Chandra goes well beyond the headlines, or for that matter, even the body copy of what has appeared in newspapers. His research is phenomenal, his insights for the most part, extremely perspicacious… Inspector Sartaj is a marvellous creation: past 40, divorced, over-worked, his career stagnating, he is no longer incorruptible as before, but his decency remains. He has learnt to benefit from a corrupt system, but he is uncomfortable about doing so… Around Sartaj and Gaitonde, Chandra assembles a huge supporting cast including social workers and politicians, a model coordinator who supplies call girls as well, an air hostess being blackmailed, a dance bar owner who enjoys Himalayan treks, intelligence agents from both sides of the Indo-Pak border — each one of them finely drawn with meticulous attention to detail…

On balance Sacred Games is a ripping good read. At 900 pages, isn’t it too long and bulky? It seems bulky only so long as the hard cover edition is held unopened in a single palm — the wrist may start to ache after a while. Once the book is put down, and the reading begins, it doesn’t seem bulky at all. Even at the end Sartaj fascinates: one wants to know about his future adventures, how the second marriage he is contemplating fared. Yeh dil mange still more. — Debashish Mukerji, The Week (India).

[Chandra] lays open, with a sharp intellectual scalpel, layer upon layer of the mind of a police inspector, a gangster, a secret agent and every other character who happens to be, however obliquely, part of the scene. In the process, he exposes several overlapping worlds that make up the beating heart of Mumbai.

There is the world of the murderous undwerworld gangs who compete for a territory and have a hand in everything — from construction to horse-racing — that happens in that most pulsating of India’s cities. A window opens onto the grimy daily lives of policemen both honest and dishonest; this is a world of bribery, mock raids on pickup joints, bureaucratic skullduggery and thankfully, some commitment to duty. There is also a glimpse of the sequinned world of starlets with enhanced bodies who are sleeping their way to the screen while sleazy patrons look on indulgently. And the reader is transported into the dubious world of the modern “God” man, who hoards greenbacks while dispensing etheral spirituality and dreaming of the final battle. These are gritty, violent, unforgiving places, “where to win is to lose everything, and the game always wins.” Chandra makes no attempt to soften the focus. The blood and gore are shown up close; the deceit and treachery; the smell of the bile, and the final expelling of life as the knife goes home are vividly described.

Sacred Games teems with minor characters, who push and shove onto its pages like commuters at rush hour around a Mumbai suburban train. Chandra pursues them relentlessly and their stories come rushing in like the Arabian sea at high tide… . The picture that emerges is crowded, heaving, multi-layered. It is as good a close-up as one can get of the seamier side of life.

The author ambitiously set out to write a big book, and its size alone will ensure comparisons with A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. But where Seth evoked the leisurely conversations of the genteel Indian family, Vikram Chandra revels in the expletive-rich, sexually loaded idiom of the treacherous lanes of Mumbai. The book is in some ways reminiscent of an extra-lenth Bollywood movie … It is also, however, what Bollywood movies are usually not — imaginatively conceptualized, meticulously researched and authentically portrayed. — Navtej Sarna, Times Literary Supplement (UK).

Chandra’s second novel follows a slightly bent, averagely effectual detective while he pieces together the history of a Bombay mobster and reflects on the collapse of his own marriage. Although not a thriller, being driven less by plot twists than by bravura writing, it is still a thrilling read – its legion of characters presenting a complex portrait of modern India. That is the real point of the book, and explains why some chapters are first-person narratives, seemingly unconnected to the action – for in the subcontinent, nothing is as it seems. — The First Post (UK).

Vikram Chandra’s novel Sacred Games is a gutsy, wellcrafted attempt at giving the city the kind of novel it deserves… Sacred Games is a big, bustling… constantly engaging novel that, like the city it explores, inexplicably manages to work. — Nirpal Dhaliwal, The Evening Standard (UK).

But this is no simple Holmes-Moriarty adventure or merely an entertaining read. It works on numerous levels, the most vibrant of which paints a realistic landscape of India and the intrinsic machinery that allows it to move forward, when the laws of sociology suggest the country should have collapsed long ago. It addresses crime, politics, religion, the caste system, history, business, the psychology of power, the juxtaposition of good and evil, and the effects of merging cultures on a nation — to name a few of its topics. It is against this setting that Chandra’s stories-within-a-story spin, and what glorious diversions they are. — Allen Pierleoni, Sacramento Bee (USA).

[Gaitonde’s] saga full of social upheaval and personal violence, spanning decades and touching on every aspect of the city’s life. In Vikram Chandra’s capacious novel it alternates with chapters describing Sartaj’s investigation into his death. Between them the two narratives add up to a kaleidoscopic vision of an immense city — glittering and squalid, pullulating with energy, grossly overpopulated, driven by the volatile forces of ambition, despair and religious ardour. That city is the real protagonist of Chandra’s book, as well as the stage on which his Comedie Humaine is played out. Appropriately, the disaster, which both master criminal and policeman are struggling to avert, is one that threatens, not any particular person or group, but the whole reeking, noisy, beautiful place…

But even the main threads of the narrative (Gaitonde’s reminiscences, Sartaj’s policework) are made up of a multitude of twisted strands. The pretty teenager who bewitches her brother-in-law with fantasies of showbiz stardom, and who ends up procuress to the criminal elite; the policeman’s son, gentle and dreamy, rerouted towards delinquency after his father is killed making an arrest; the insinuating social worker who hunts for political influence through the stinking mud of the shanty towns; the silly, besotted air-hostess whose lapdog, Fluffy, is thrown out of a fifth-floor window in the novel’s first paragraph but who, by its end, has been allowed enough sympathy to move Sartaj to the stupidest action we see him commit; each of these characters and dozens of others add something — a piece of a glitter or a dark accent – to the immense mosaic Chandra is constructing…
[A] hugely ambitious and dazzlingly energetic book… — Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Sunday Times (UK).

Like the best noir, Sacred Games is cinematic in scope. But here the model is Bollywood, not Hollywood… By telling his tale in popular form, Chandra has found a vehicle particularly suited to the New India—to its passions and poverty, its outsize dreams and insecurities. Gaitonde may be larger than life in his appetites but not in his ambitions. The reader can recognize the same desperate striving in him as in a lowly Bihari slum dweller, a cop on the make. — Nisid Hajari, Newsweek International.

The unstoppable rise of Gaitonde is mapped out in convincing detail… Gaitonde is drawn into the unholy world of local politicians and communal tensions — the best passages of the book drag us, at breakneck speed, down through the gloom and dirt… One thing Chandra does superbly well is give a sense of the changes and the continuities of modern India. When we go back to the horrors of Partition suffered by the Singh family, it fleshes out and explains why characters became what they are. Gaitonde’s own origins are equally painful and totally convincing: the dreadful injustices of small-town life shape the monster he is to become… Sacred Games conjures up a Mumbai that is far more convincing than others we’ve been offered, one that accurately portrays the recent changes in Indian society. If I was sorry to learn that Mumbai police do not talk in the language of their newspapers (where miscreants are always nabbed red-handed in the nick of time), then I was grateful for my full-blooded lesson in Hindi curses. All are brilliantly embedded so that every meaning is clear, a remarkable achievement. Anthony Burgess once did a similar job for Russian in the teenage argot of A Clockwork Orange, but his publisher insisted on a glossary, against Burgess’s better judgment. Chandra manages without. — Kevin Rushby, Guardian Unlimited (UK).

This is a book about violence, greed, yachts, mafia yogis, nuclear bombs, Partition and Miss India competitions, written in English interspersed with Hindi. Chandra manages to forge an intimacy between the reader and the two often morally unattractive men who rage across these 900 pages… Sacred Games is both riveting and brilliantly vile. — Ruby Lancaster, Time Out (UK).

Seemingly everything about the author’s life has gone into the making of this novel. The made-for-cinema style of storytelling draws from his film family. The narrative elegance is shaped by his apprenticeship with the American writers John Barth and Donald Barthelme. The self-assured prose comes with experience – Chandra’s debut novel, the magic-realist Red Earth and Pouring Rain, and his collection of interconnected short stories Love and Longing in Bombay won awards and acclaim. Even Sartaj Singh, the compelling protagonist of Sacred Games, comes from one of the stories in Chandra’s second book.
Sacred Games is made up of all this, and much more. Meticulously structured and tautly told, it is the kind of novel that one reads hungrily, turning the pages but lingering over every paragraph and sentence, wanting to get to the end but not wanting the book to end at all…

The narrative is not only about moves and countermoves. It is sustained by its moments of intense feeling – the suddenness of loss, the pain of having to betray a friend – but the melancholy wisdom that it offers is that the losses and betrayals are also part of the game. Meanwhile, other disparate characters wash up on the shores of the story like migrants to this island city by the sea, and the novel manages to hold them all together. Teeming with people and their individual histories, the book races back and forth between past and present, darkness and daylight, like the trains that whip across the cityscape…

Sacred Games is also a great novel of India. In one inset, Sartaj’s mother remembers her childhood during the Partition riots. In another, a retired intelligence officer remembers the turbulences of later decades — China, Naxalbari, East Pakistan, Sikh militancy, “This constant long war, with its hidden and unsung victories” — and also the sub-plot of a Yadav making a career within a Brahmin-dominated organisation. With notable effortlessness, the novel traverses the history of the Subcontinent, recalling not only the many griefs but also the steady struggle forward…

At the end of this splendid novel is another quiet realisation about the interconnectedness of the world and the inevitability of loss: “There was no avoiding this conundrum, no escape from it, and no profit from complaining about it. Love was duty, and duty was love.” — Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta, Himal Southasian (Nepal).

To use the word “epic” in the context of a crime novel is usually asking for trouble, but few would question it being applied to Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games which clocks up 900 pages and weighs in at nearly three pounds. Epic it is, though, in scale and scope and in the quality of the writing, which is superb, from the moment Inspector Sartaj Singh makes contact with gangster Ganesh Gaitonde on the day of his death. Sartaj is the only Sikh inspector on the Mumbai police force and through him we not only get the gangster’s story in flashback, but also a vivid picture of a teeming city where “the morgue is too small” and absolutely everybody is corrupt. Sacred Games is a stunning novel and one of the best crime novels of the year, with Sartaj a wonderfully sympathetic hero whose philosophy is that the police are good men who have to be bad in order to keep the worst men under control. — Mike Ripley, Birmingham Post (UK).