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916 pages, Hardcover
First published January 1, 2006
My own life had taught me what was real, and I knew that what men can imagine, they can make real. And so I was terrified.
Out of all the books I've gone through in the last few years since I committed to having at least one 700+ page behemoth on my docket, this is likely the most casual. It was no trouble at all to crack it open at eleven at night after a full day of work and already completed reading load, not to mention my motivation for reading this when I did was the upcoming Netflix series. Then again, I first came across Chandra in my postcolonial short story class, and the vaunted name drops of Barth, Barthelme, and UC Berkley in the author's bio show that, while the theme may be crime and punishment, the narrative doesn't stint itself in accordance to genre conventions. A previous owner of my copy left a nasty note that basically called the book a ripped off mix between 'Go Set a Watchmen' and 'The Godfather', but that's white people for you. One would think that the adulation and 'Ulysses' and co. amongst a certain generation would have cultivate a sense for context to make up for the terms that aren't covered by the Hindi/Punjabi/etc glossary in the back, but that's the problem with certain members of the international audience. Even with English as the majority lingo, some expect to be spoon fed.
A reputation for ruthlessness can do wonders for peace.Chandra's the rare author who respects characters whom are usually valued only for their narrative use, not for any intrinsic humanity on their own part. This contributes to the novel's length, especially during the last few humanizing passages regarding characters which the reader is typically trained to pass over and forget for the sake of narratological efficiency. This also accounts for my determination that the afterword's incorporated article's use of the word "Dicksensian" is rather slipshod, as while delving into the underworld may have been characteristic of that flat character flatulence, the treatment of each individual is all Mary Ann Evans. Every time I expected a lack of interiority, every time I assumed a facet of the story would be passed over in glancing due to gender or class or religion, Chandra would give at least five to fifteen pages in the so termed "Insets" that I came to look forward to the most as oceans between the two main characters, the Sikh policeman and the Hindu crime lord. That compassion that translates directly to to effort spent on a credible character, thus giving respect to the humans it is based on, is what I seek in any story, and coupled with a landscape I've never been to but hope to visit someday, this work was a pleasurable learning experience as well as an entertaining ride. The .1 of a star off comes from my lackluster reception of the solution to the second to most penultimate mystery, as misogyny is only as realistic as we enable it. For 900+ pages, though, two or three slip ups wasn't half bad.
There is a certain pleasure we take in thinking about how bad it gets, Sartaj thought, and then in imagining how it will inevitably get worse. And still we survive, the city stumbles on. Maybe one day it'll all just fall apart, and there was a certain gratification in that thought too. Let the maderchod blow.I'm likely going to purchase any Chandra that I haven't read that comes across my path. The transition from short story to 900+ page multifaceted yet enjoyably readable epic is no small feat, and seeing how rarely my revisits of past successes follow through, I'm eager to amass works under a familiar name while my liking lasts. I admit to shamefacedly chortling along with one of the afterword's article's mention of the mainstream Anglo academic elite's valuing of India's international literary diaspora over the people who choose (or can afford) to stay, as I am much more familiar with the mentioned Lahiri and Desai than, say, Hyder, or even Tagore. Roy's an exception, but she also writes in English, so while I can claim a non Anglo (in the Anglo Saxon sense) viewpoint, the fact that the other three books on my docket are in translation shows it's not lack of opportunity limiting my experience with translations from Hindi or Punjabi or the multitude of other languages commonly referred to as Indian. I'm not knocking Chandra for writing this work the way he did, but now that I've had my fun, it's time to get back to work.
I have worked with politicians, and gangsters, and holy men, and let me tell you, none of these can compete with a writer for mountainous inflations of ego and mouse-like insecurities of soul.P.S. All you Netflix subscribers over there, keep an eye out for this adaptation, pretty please. It needs all the love it can get.