Monday, January 08, 2007

Vikram Chandra

Today's mail brought my copy of Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra, and today's blogging brought a raft of news about book and author, thanks to Sarah Weinman at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind. I have only 898 pages to go before I finish this tale of Mumbai (Bombay) and its underworld, but I was a fan of the author before I read a word of the novel, based on his essay "The Cult of Authenticity", whose heading declares that "India’s cultural commissars worship `Indianness' instead of art."

Reviewers have noted the novel's use of slang and untranslated terms. I find that prospect highly attractive. Such use of language brings a novel alive for me, the vividness more than making up for an occasional term I might not understand. And context almost always makes the meaning clear, anyhow.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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14 Comments:

Anonymous Karen C said...

I agree with you 100% about the slang and untranslated terminology - it gives you so much better feeling for the local cadence when there are some things that you have to work out, either from context or with phrase book in hand.
h

January 08, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Interesting that the first comment on this post should come from you. I had Austrlian crime fiction in mind when I made the comment, and I think it may have been you who lamented the occasional attempts at "translating" Australian crime fiction for overseas English-speaking audiences by toning down the slang.

If you haven't seen it already, by the way, I posted a comment about Text Publishing. I like the looks of their Web site.

January 08, 2007  
Anonymous Karen C said...

I did notice the Text comments - and was really pleased to see you highlight them - they are a great publisher.

I do love the Andrea Camilleri Montalbano series and that one tends to leave some slang and local phrases in the text - makes it feel so much more realistic and appealing to me.

January 08, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

At least one of Yasmina Khadra's crime novels includes a short glossary of local terms. I read the English translation, and I'm making periodic efforts to read the book in the original. It's not easy. He seems to have a harsh style, which may be another aspect of local language. I can take some consolation in the fact that one of my French readers here says Khadra's style is difficult. It's not just that I'm slow!

I also have mixed feelings when I read English versions of Dutch writing that translate the names of Amsterdam's streets and canals. "Emperor's Canal" may give a hint of Amsterdam's past, but "Keisergracht" gives more of the flavor of its present.

Jean-Claude Izzo's Marseilles trilogy also has lots of local flavor, even in the novels' titles. Two of the books are Chourmo and Total Cheops ("Total Chaos" in English.). Both those terms are local slang, I have read.

January 08, 2007  
Blogger Geetha Krishnan said...

Hi Peter, You may find Sacred Games interesting. I read it some time in October last year and posted a review on my blog - you can read it here http://simply-speaking.blogspot.com/2006/10/900-pound-gorilla.html.
Considering I live in Mumbai, picking up the slang and the local argot was not much of a deal for me - I'll leave it to you to decide whether it works for you.

January 09, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for the comment, Geetha. I just read your review, and I was impressed that the novel brought Mumbai alive for you. If it works for a resident of the city it portrays, it may well work for me.

I have read that American editions of Sacred Games will include a glossary of unfamiliar terms. My edition, an advance reading copy, does not include such a glossary, but this does not bother me. The language of a novel is as much a part of its setting as are the sights and the sounds and the smells. If it's a bit unfamiliar, excellent! I'll learn something and have fun doing it.

The skill with which the author uses the language is another matter, of course. From the evidence of the opening pages, though, I have no reason to suspect Sacred Games will not work for me.

January 09, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Jerome Weeks of book/daddy sent the following via e-mail. Since he is having trouble posting it as a comment, I hope he'll have no objection to seeing it here on public view. (I am having equal trouble posting on his blog.) He says one reviewer found Sacred Games limited by the dreaded "genre thinking." Of course, one could reverse the point of view and ask not whether a novel is hobbled by genre thinking, but whether it succeeds as a work in its chosen genre. That's one more thing to think about when I actually read the damn book. And now, Jerome:

http://www.artsjournal.com/bookdaddy/2007/01/
first_novel_of_the_year_declar.html


Interestingly, the reception in British and India was generally quite
positive. So far, on this side, Jonathan Yardley savaged it in the
Post, Paul Gray gave it a maddeningly off-putting review in the NYTimes
(he front-loaded all of the objections to the book, managing to declare
it too calculatedly commercial ÅND abstruse at the same time, before
hailing it as pretty good) and Pinkaj Mishra gave it the most
thoughtful treatment I've read so far in the New Yorker, both enjoying
it but ultimately finding it limited ... once again, by those horrid
limitations of 'genre thinking.'

I have this suspicion that much of this (certainly Yardley's sour
response) has as much to do with the $1 million HarperCollins paid
Chandra as with the book itself. Recall the rather snotty trashing
Jonathan Safran Foer underwent when his paycheck for his second book
was revealed.


Jerome Weeks
book/daddy

January 09, 2007  
Blogger Bombay Addict said...

I found the book to be simply brilliant. I found the narrative and the characters so engrossing that the climax (which has been panned by a few reviewers) really didn't matter to me.

Another thing you might find interesting is Mr. Chandra's use of "Insets" which have a lot of detail (i.e. story). I found all of them fascinating. I daresay this was one of the best books I've ever read...but then I don't read that often !

Thanks.

January 10, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for the comment. No one seems to be neutral about the inserts or insets. Some readers love them, and I read one review that panned them.

I've only just begun the novel, so I have reached none of them yet. I enjoy stories that comment on the main action, whether in Shakespeare, The Thousand Nights and One Night, or musical overtures, so perhaps I'll enjoy the inserts. It will be highly interesting to see how they work in a contemporary, realistic novel.

I have one question for you, and one observation. I read a post on another blog that laughed at an American reviewer for missing harsh curse words in the novel. I know the novel contains lots of slang, but are the swear words really that bad, equivalents of &*(*&(*&%! or even ^&*(&*^@@!? The observation is that if Vikram Chandra can get an infrequent reader to read a 900-page novel, he must be pretty good.

January 10, 2007  
Blogger Bombay Addict said...

Peter - Thanks for your reply.

I think I will revisit the book just to read the inserts/insets. They contain some very compelling tales.

To answer your questions - they are If a blogger has laughed - as you point out - at a reviewer who has missed the curse words out, well, I will share a smile at that too.

I think they (the swear words) added a marvelous flavor to the narrative. I cannot imagine the book without the swear words. I've lived my entire life in Bombay and I've heard and used - still use - those same words myself. So perhaps this infrequent reader is also biased.

This infrequent reader (who'd never read Mr. Chandra before) liked "Sacred Games" so much, he was thrilled when a dear friend gifted him "Love and Longing in Mumbai" by the same author. Hence I am currently working hard to remove that "infrequent" tag. Yes, he is a brilliant author.

January 10, 2007  
Blogger Bombay Addict said...

Sorry that should read

"To answer your question - firstly - if a blogger has laughed - as you point out - at a reviewer who has missed the curse words out, well, I will share a smile at that too.

Secondly - I think (the swear words).."

January 10, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for your comments. Vikram Chandra said in an interview that he tried to write as if he were having a conversation with a friend. He has heard and used the same words you do.

The American edition of Sacred Games includes a glossary, but my edition, an advance reading copy, lacks this feature. I will have to guess at the meanings of these colorful terms or wait until I can read the glossary in another copy of the book. I've been able to make a guess about one of the words already because of its similarity to words in other Indo-European languages.

January 10, 2007  
Blogger Bombay Addict said...

Peter - Excellent ! And thanks for your comment back at my blog. After reading your post, I've posted separately - but all too briefly - on this super book.

January 11, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

You're welcome. Naturally I noticed on your blog that you said you had read no reviews of the book. This can be a good idea. Sacred Games has generated much discussion among critics; it is an event in the book world. And that means one can easily get caught up in the event, and forget the book.

January 11, 2007  

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