Albert's Reviews > Sacred Games

Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
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's review
Feb 09, 11

bookshelves: fiction, india, crime, police
Read from May 12, 2010 to February 08, 2011

It took me a very long time to read Sacred Games, and it was mostly worth it. There are some powerful moments and I liked the overall setting and style, but it was ultimately a bit uneven.

When I first started reading it, the language took a bit of getting used to. Chandra uses a lot of words in various Indian languages. Even the characters' names were hard to keep track of because they are unfamiliar. There is a large glossary, but I found that it was too cumbersome to flip to it all the time, and it was better just to read on. Usually the context was enough to provide understanding.

Structurally, the novel is quite interesting. Chapters alternate between focussing on Sartaj Singh, a police detective, and Ganesh Gaitonde, a crime boss. The two characters actually meet in the first chapter and Gaitonde dies. The rest of the Gaitonde chapters are flashbacks of his criminal "career" and what lead to his end, while the Sartaj chapters deal with his investigation into the same events. Apart from this alternating series of chapters, there are occasional chapters called "Insets" that have to do with peripheral characters who may or may not affect the main plot.

Because of this structure, the experience is like reading two separate novels, with the Insets acting like short stories thrown into the mix. I thought the Gaitonde story was a bit stronger than Sartaj's. Parts of it reminded me of the De Niro parts of The Godfather Part II, particularly near the beginning when he is working his up the criminal hierarchy. When he becomes the boss, his mental state often fluctuates between aggressive cockiness and paranoid insecurity. I can imagine that the stresses of being the head of a crime organization would do that to you.

One of my favourite chapters was the Inset revolving around Sartaj's mother's childhood. The writing style reflected a different time and conveyed a childlike perspective. I won't spoil it, but what happens is really traumatic, while also tying into the themes of the larger plot.

The main problem I had with the book was the scale of the plot. After finishing it, I can now see that the story comes together. But during the course of reading it, it felt like there were many excessive diversions. Sometimes it would tie into the plot, and sometimes not. While I admire the richness of it, I was often left thinking to myself, "Why is this important?" As an example, the penultimate chapter involves a character who has seemingly not been previously introduced. We basically go through his entire life story before we find out that he is in fact a background character who was involved an earlier event involving one of the main characters. The fact that this chapter takes place after the climax of the main plot made it seem really out of place and unnecessary.

Overall, I liked the immersiveness of Sacred Games, but maybe it was so immersive that sometimes I lost track of the point.
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Reading Progress

05/12/2010 page 10
1.01% "Might be hard to keep track of all the unfamiliar Indian names. But I'll get used to it."
05/17/2010 page 69
6.96% "Rise of a crime boss. Very 'Godfather Part 2'."
05/31/2010 page 189
19.05% "Gonna take a break from this, in the mood for something less epic."
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