Today a friend of mine sent me the link to an interview printed in the San Francisco Chronicle with author and UC Berkeley professor Vikram Chandra. If you didn’t know, and I did not, he received from Harper Collins a shocking $1 million advance for his new novel “Sacred Games” (if you can call 916 pages merely a novel). You can read Sandip Roy’s review in the SFCBR.

Chandra says the controlling image for this epic novel is a mandala, a pattern of, in this case, narrative excursions that bounce off and move away from the markings of traditional crime fiction. The interviewer, Avni, writes “the book’s Mumbai setting and references to Bollywood cinema, Asian terrorism and Indian postcolonial history will be far outside the reference frame of most American readers.” So what is HC banking on?

I haven’t read Chandra, so I can only be surprised at the amount and recall Gautam Malkani’s improbable unconfirmed £350,000 advance from Fourth Estate (UK) for his novel “Londonstani” (click here to read my review in the SFCBR) It was published in the United States by Penguin Press / HC. In Malkani’s case, the idea was hip and marketable, with its Ali-G-style slang, depiction of rudeboy immigrant London, and literary prose. But its hype was overblown, the book tedious and what might have been seen as a decent debut by a young writer (Malkani was 29 when it was published) became a critical catastrophe.

Is Chandra’s advance a sign of respect for literary fiction and unpredictable, ambitious writing, or is it a gamble based on the trendiness of the subject and setting? I don’t know, but it’s a number that makes you think.

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