Have you ever read something that took you somewhere, only to look back and realize the experience has changed you completely?
“Wadia man” Ajay is in the driver’s seat after a car jumps the curb in 2004, killing five laborers, one pregnant. He says he works for Gautam Rathore, the vehicle owner.
Rewind 13 years. Ajay is eight when a goat finds something to eat on a neighboring farm in Uttar Pradesh, India. The family and farm are devastated by the debt. Ajay is taken away. His almost third person-like narration is relentless and nearly unfeeling. The pacing in the beginning feels innate to Ajay’s survival instinct and matches the cruelty of his story. Somewhere along the way Ajay begins to find his voice, and with it, comes violence.
We see an overlapping time span from the perspective of Neda, journalist and daughter of radical left-leaning parents. One day, Neda tags along to a party thrown by the “Prince of Delhi”, Sunny Wadia. Besides real estate projects, Sunny likes to fund up and coming artists of varied types, including Neda’s friend Hari. Neda is then sucked into Sunny’s orbit after a press conference coverage assignment. Despite their difference in circumstance, Neda is the only person Sunny has met that doesn’t need him to get ahead. Alas, it cannot be. Delhi is changing. And Sunny can never truly get away from the mob, Uncle Vinny, or his father, Bunty.
Age of Vice stands on its own as a critical, literary, and political commentary of modern India, transcending class, caste, family, duty, privilege, and love.
The novel is an eye-opening – and fictional – look at consequences of the 1991 financial crash in India and subsequent shift in federal economic policy. Some are uplifted by the policy switch to liberalize the Indian economy. Some are not. The star of the show is New Delhi itself, but the story leaves for Goa, Mumbai, and the mountains of Uttar Pradesh frequently. It’s a saga of three families that reads like noir meets journalism in five acts.
I found Age of Vice unusually cruel, haunting, urgent, brutal, and demanding. The writing devastates repeatedly, but especially when it shines a light on child slavery and human trafficking. There is just enough empathy and humanity to keep reading for. The recognizable plights of the characters kept me invested in following their stories.
In 2019, FX won the US rights in a 20-way auction to adapt the books into a TV series. This is the first book in a planned trilogy fit for readers of mob thrillers, sagas, or literary fiction.