“[Vikram] Chandra’s novels and stories seek to grapple with the entirety of India’s place in the world, from its ancient myths and aesthetic discourse to its disastrous experience with colonialism to its modern kaleidoscope of bedazzling—and politically destabilizing—ethnic and linguistic and religious division. He is nothing if not a big game hunter.”
Vikram Chandra’s celebrated books, which explore the tumultuous overlaps between tradition and popular culture in both Indian and Western civilization, have been called “magnificent” by The Los Angeles Times and “monumental” by The Wall Street Journal. Chandra’s approach owes much to an obsession with the elements of storytelling, with the mechanics of language, and with the literature of his native India, in which every story contains the seeds of other stories. This multilayered method results in deeply satisfying books that pay homage not only to India’s rich literary tradition but also to the nineteenth-century novelists to whom Chandra has been compared: Dickens, Trollope, and Thackeray.
“A writer who possesses the rare, prodigious power to make literature.”
—The New Yorker
Chandra’s bestselling novel, Sacred Games, exploded onto the scene in 2006 following an intense bidding war between Indian, American, and British publishers. Sacred Games centers on Sartaj Singh, a divorced Sikh police inspector trudging into an unpromising middle age, and Ganesh Gaitonde, a flashy mobster whom Publishers Weekly called “the most compelling character in crime fiction since Don Corleone offered a deal that couldn’t be refused.” An impeccably researched 900-page epic, Sacred Games has been called “a gritty expose of Mumbai’s underworld and the police corruption and world events that keep it flourishing” (Publishers Weekly). Chandra spent seven years researching the novel, even going so far as to meet with a hit man in a Mumbai cafe. The result is a novel that Kirkus praised as “elegant and irresistible.”
Sacred Games was adapted for Netflix India’s first original series, starring Saif Ali Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, with Chandra as an executive producer. The Economist wrote, “Sacred Games—which yokes together literary prestige with A-list Bollywood actors, charismatic antiheroes and scads of graphic sex and bloodshed—announces the arrival of ‘Golden Age’ television to the Indian market.” Vanity Fair praised Sacred Games as “electrifyingly new…. You can’t take your eyes off of it,” and The New York Times named the series one of the best international TV shows of the 2010s, citing its mix of “Bollywood energy with a literary style and touches of magical realism.” Both seasons of Sacred Games are streaming now on Netflix.
While Sacred Games was Chandra’s breakout hit, it wasn’t his first literary success. That came a decade earlier with his debut novel, Red Earth and Pouring Rain, which won the David Higham Prize and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book. Inspired by the memoirs of a legendary half-British, half-Indian cavalry officer of the nineteenth century, Red Earth and Pouring Rain exemplifies the story-within-a-story structure for which Chandra is so celebrated. Red Earth and Pouring Rain has been called “incandescent, evocative, breathtaking” by The Los Angeles Times, “a dazzling first novel” by The London Times, and “magnificent” by The Guardian.
In 1997, Chandra published a collection of interconnected short stories called Love and Longing in Bombay. The collection beat out frontrunner The God of Small Things to win the Eurasia Region Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Chandra himself has called Love and Longing in Bombay “a meditation about form.” The collection contains a ghost story, a detective story, and a drawing-room war story, all composed with Chandra’s characteristic eloquence and apparent ease. Love and Longing in Bombay has been called “exceptional” (The Spectator), “vivid” (The Sunday Times), and “utterly alive” (The Guardian).
Chandra’s most recent book is the genre-defying Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty. A computer programmer for almost as long as he has been a novelist, Chandra searches for the connections between the worlds of art and technology in his eye-opening nonfiction debut. Programmers are obsessed with elegance and style, just as writers are, but do the words mean the same thing to both? Chandra’s idiosyncratic history of coding explores such varied topics as the machismo of male nerds, Silicon Valley’s creative “Indian Mafia,” and the algorithmic nature of Sanskrit. Part technology story and part memoir, Geek Sublime is a book of sweeping ideas. It was selected as an Editors’ Choice book by The New York Times Book Review and as one of the Best Books of 2014 by The Telegraph (UK).
Chandra’s continued passion for programming has taken him from hobbyist to professional innovator, as he also heads up a software startup called Granthika. In the midst of writing Sacred Games and keeping that entire world in his head, Chandra realized “I need a word processor that does more than word processing.” Thus began a decade-long project to build an application that could keep track of characters, settings, and events as well as their individual histories and the many connections between them.
For Chandra, the shifting boundaries between stories, modes, and global contexts are familiar territory. Born in Mumbai, he was raised by a highly successful executive father and a screenwriter mother noted for her contributions to Indian cinema. Chandra graduated from Pomona College in California with a BA in English and a concentration in creative writing. He attended film school at Columbia University, but dropped out to write Red Earth and Pouring Rain. He later earned an MFA in creative writing at the University of Houston. In addition to his three works of fiction, Chandra co-wrote the screenplay for an Indian feature film, Mission Kashmir, released in 2000. A two-time finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award—once for Fiction and once for Criticism—he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2015.
Chandra divides his time between California, where he teaches at UC Berkeley, and Mumbai.here.