“Our dreams let people die.”
Billed as India’s response to The Godfather, Deepti Kapoor’s Age of Vice (Riverhead Books 2023) is a gangster novel meets political commentary kissed with a romance wrapped in a family saga. In short, it’s a muddled, confusing thrill ride of extreme violence and unlikeable characters. Even though a bit sloppy at times and in serious need of more focus and cleaner character development, it was still a fun ride.
In many respects, Age of Vice is a story of sons. When Ajay was eight, he forgot to tether a goat. His father is killed over this transgression, and Ajay’s world changes forever. Ajay is sold into servitude, but it’s not a bad life. He likes serving. He likes pleasing people. He is an agreeable chameleon, molding himself to the situation and the needs of those around him; he’ll never leave another goat untethered.
Sunny Wadia, heir to his father’s far-reaching gangster empire, has spent much of his life seeking his father’s approval and drowning his failed attempts in bottles and in the lines he snorts. He throws money around freely, paying for friends and the attention he craves, and dreaming of an idealistic India.
Sunny meets Ajay while traveling, and Ajay quickly becomes devoted to Sunny, earning him the nickname “puppy.” When Sunny leaves, he offers Ajay a job. Ajay, having been untethered from his servitude by the death of the man who bought him, has no other options. He goes to Sunny, and he becomes a Wadia man – a career choice that pays nicely and is met with fear and respect. His eagerness to please and devotion to Sunny makes him a ready favorite. Much like failing to tether the goat forever changed the trajectory of his life, Ajay’s decision to become a Wadia man will prove unwise; the Wadia men have no problems kicking a puppy.
Reminding me a bit of The Stranger, the first section of the novel, and the most compelling, is Ajay’s. The second section belongs to journalist-turned-Sunny’s-love-interest Neda. Despite having potential, especially as it related to the social commentary aspects of the novel, her character was the most tangled and the most unlikeable. The third section is booze-soaked & drug addled Sunny’s stream of consciousness. What follows his section is a rapid-fire series of alternating POVs leading to a rather unsatisfying conclusion.
While all that glitters is certainly not gold in this crime drama, it’s still worth the read.