Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sacred Games Revisited, One Bit

Two Bits

Michael Sedano

A friend called me up to complain after last week's review of Vikram Chandra’s novel, Sacred Games. "So it's a thriller, a detective story, running 900 pages long, and all La Bloga can say is it’s puro fun?"

First off, I reclamared him back. Why didn't you post your complaint so other gente could take a crack at it? Maybe they agreed and you coulda been the first on the bandwagon? Or maybe, just maybe, they woulda agreed that a short piece on a long novel is appropriate and based on what else they'd heard about the novel, they would give it a shot.

However, I plead guilty to the brother's complaint. For one thing, it’s the truth. The novel is fun. But there are so many considerations to so hefty a work. For instance, on the writer side, imagine what you would do with the freedom to spin a yarn in every direction the story took you? For the reader, imagine a highly textured plot mixing gangsters, cops, crime victims, petty criminals, nuclear terrorism, ethnic and class divisions, movies, extortion, friendship, solitude, tasty Indian snacks, sex. Set the novel in India, in Bombay / Mumbai to add a generous helping of the exotic, write in elegant English but use code-switching liberally to heighten the local color, and you have a fun read.

Then again, because Sacred Games is a story of detection and suspense, I have to avoid giving away surprises and tricks, thus the short shrift given the plot summary.

I was hooked from the first page, a tale of cruelty mixed with humor as a dog name Fluffy is tossed out a high rise window.

A white Pomeranian named Fluffy flew out of a fifth-floor window in Panna, which was a brand-new building with the painter's scaffolding still around it. Fluffy screamed in her little lap-dog voice all the way down, like a little white kettle losing steam, bounced off the bonnet of a Cielo, and skidded to a halt near the rank of schoolgirls waiting for the St Mary's Convent bus. ( More from Chapter 1 at the link in the title or click here.)

Chandra wastes nothing. This could have been merely a way to introduce Sartaj and Katekar, and so it appears until the writer brings back the story after foregrounding other matters. One of these dog tosser characters will play a central role in one of the book’s two main plot lines, the biography of the policeman Sartaj Singh. The second plot, the thriller involving international intrigue and the mafia don Ganesh Gaitonde, will be told in first person. The criminal’s voice will lull some readers into sympathy for the devil, which is part of the fun, so go with it.

Ethnic and political division fills the book. Chandar builds incidents out of the history of Hindu v. Muslim v. Sikh v. a host of ethnic and class names you need the glossary to unravel—or not. Add nationalism v. multiculturalism v. religious fundamentalism, murder, brutality, and depravity and there’s something for every adult reader in the novel. Aside from the novelty of setting, younger readers won't get much from the novel.

Coincidence and inevitability are concepts the novel plays a lot with. For example, there’s a story of a cop doing a door to door search for a ruffian. He corners the man, who slices the cop’s throat. The cop’s partner shoots the fleeing blade in the back. Hundreds of pages later, we meet a village boy enduring scorn from all quarters against his dogged pursuit of schooling. He reads borrowed textbooks by streetlight, begs money to survive, is constantly starving. He comes to support himself through petty crime. One day he abandons his gang and disappears to Mumbai. Years go by. One night he is pursued by police. He is cornered. In desperation he flicks out his knife at the cop from the first story.

It’s connections like these that give so much texture to the novel that lead me to the claim of it being pure fun. So that's a more detailed look at a fine summer novel.

And now for something completely different...

I had a call recently from an anthologist whose collection will be coming to press soon. He asked artists I know if they would be willing to donate their work for the cover. Several artists generously responded with offers of some fine, outstanding museum quality work.

Why would they be so ready to give away their stuff, I ask them? Aren't they always broke and needing money to buy supplies or gas or maybe a new shirt? Giving away your stuff is why you're poor, eses. Oh well, they also are good at heart and understand the anthologist's need for charity. Bull roar.

And to the anthologist, I asked, isn't there more than a modicum of the sin vergüenza in asking artists to give something for a book that will have a price tag on it? I think the publisher should come up with a few hundred bucks for art work. Or the anthologist could fork over some cash. Consider the few measly bucks paid for the art a part of the cost of publication.

Extra bit for horticulturists
Have a look at a noxious weed that I find stupendously beautiful. This is my Fuller's Teasel page at Read! Raza.

That's the news from the Eastside of LA, ok, from Pasadena, the East north.

See you next week. Read! Raza. And remember, La Bloga welcomes guest columnists and comments on the day's column or something you consider appropriate.



Lisa Alvarado said...

Michael, more detail about Sacred Games gives me a better sense as the WHY the book is fun...and well-crafted. Plus your description from last week as to how it's bound gives me incentive on a purely tactile basis!

And I agree with your take on no freebies, at least not for concerns with the wherewithal to pay. I donate stuff to things because it's right and the resources are needed and things might not come together without contributing. But I've been asked by editors, institutions with beaucoup resources to donate and that is something I try not to do.

Anonymous said...

Sinvergüenza is the perfect word for it. No anthologist is doing this kind of editorial work for free! Even if all he/she was being paid was $500 for all those months of work, a little honesty about the contracted advance and a polite offer of even $50 goes a long way in telling other artists that they are valued and that their work matters enough to be compensated.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad there's concern for our cover artists. I think a conversation is in order about writers too. Especially those who are still emerging and don't understand the ins and outs of anthology work and how they really should be being paid for it. Hey editors no sean tan agarados!