In Vikram Chandra’s stunning new novel, a character from his earlier work of short stories, Love and Longing in Bombay – which Kirkus called a “brilliant work, equally effective in its radiant separate parts and as a pleasingly complex and highly original construction” – makes a star turn: Sartaj Singh, a world-weary policeman stuck wading through the political swamp of the police force.
“He forced himself into the book, right from the start,” says Chandra. “He’s an interesting guy – tough, a bit wistful, something of a cynical romantic, if you can imagine such a thing.” In Sacred Games, set against the whirling backdrop of modern-day Mumbai (once Bombay), Sartaj faces off against the semi-tragic Mafia Don Ganesh Gaitonde, ruler of Mumbai’s criminal classes. Comparisons to The Godfather have already been made, and while Sacred Games evokes similar themes of murky distinctions between law and outlaw, Chandra’s writing is so elegant and so irresistible, it elevates the classic cops-and-robbers story to new heights. While researching the book, Chandra met with many of the highest-ranking officials in Mumbai’s Mafia. “The bosses of the bigger ‘companies’ – as the gangs are called in Mumbai – actually do function like corporate executives, in that they are keenly aware of their public profiles, and are as eager to spin you as you are to interview them,” says Chandra. “Usually the dons tried to come off as misjudged realists, people who were trying to make their way in a harsh world as bet as they could, and help the poor and suffering along the way.”
As for Sartaj, Chandra believes he’s finished with him. “I’m hoping we’ve respectfully said goodbye to each other at the end of Sacred Games,” says Chandra. “I think I’ve been writing about him for about ten years now, and that’s a lot of time.”