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Serious Men Paperback – February 1, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray Publishers (February 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848543085
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848543089
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,239,010 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Joseph, an editor of magazines in India, sets up in his debut a subtly wicked satire of subterfuge and ambition that bounces between the Mumbai tenement where low-caste Ayyan Mani lives, and the esteemed research institute where he labors as the assistant of top researcher Arvind Acharya. Forever spiteful toward his privileged superiors, Ayyan is deviously mischievous and pulls off a stunt that ends with his half-deaf (but otherwise ordinary) son being proclaimed in the local news as a boy genius. Meanwhile, Arvind is obsessed with proving his theory that extraterrestrial microbes are raining down on Earth from the upper atmosphere. While his theory is promising, an affair with a seductive astrobiologist threatens to cost him his life's work. Naturally, the conniving Ayyan is involved there as well. While Ayyan's inspired smalltime villainy drives the narrative and provides more than its share of humor, it's occasionally undermined by overheated prose and uneven pacing that spirals into a panicked blitz near the end. Overall, though, this is a sharp, au courant satire, like a more mannered White Tiger.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Booklist

This ambitious debut cleverly weaves diverging plots of love, knowledge, class, and ambition. Low-caste Ayyan Mani works as an assistant to the director of the Institute of Theory and Research, where he carefully observes the interactions of the institute’s scientists. At night he returns to his small Mumbai tenement apartment, which he shares with his anxious wife and ten-year-old son Adi. Yearning for a better life for his family, Ayyan begins to spin a series of fabricated tales about his handicapped son, stories that slowly propel a series of life-changing events. Meanwhile, Ayyan’s hard-nosed genius boss, Arvind Acharya, is fixated on his theory of alien existence, and puts his professional reputation on the line. Arvind’s credibility is further complicated by the arrival of the institute’s first female researcher, a young woman who is attractive and manipulative. As Arvind’s professional ambitions give way to personal desire, Ayyan’s carefully constructed fictions begin to arouse suspicion. Joseph’s finely portrayed characters exude wit and warmth in this engaging and introspective tale. --Leah Strauss --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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See all 27 customer reviews
It is a slow start with this book, rolls into a faster pace with every page read.
Dana
Joseph has a great ability to observe and write as shown by many gems of one or two-liners in the book.
Raghu Nathan
It is the intricacy of the points of view, most especially the central character's.
C. E. Selby

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Dick Johnson VINE VOICE on August 25, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I cannot remember the last time a book was so relaxingly enjoyable. Though I've honestly used the words in other reviews; I truly did not want this one to end.

While the story is a satire of the social conventions of India, the real appeal of the novel is in the characters. There are two groups: Ayyan Mani and his family; and the scientists at the Institute of Theory and Research.

Though some of the scientists are stereotyped, they are portrayed so amusingly that I didn't care. Seeing them go about their 'work' was a hoot. The academic jealousy and fighting for funds showed that this is a constant in academia the world over.

Ayyan, his wife Oja, and their son Adi are marvelously portrayed and anything but stereotyped. Their lives and their place in the plot are handled in a manner that draws us to them. They became people I wanted to spend much more time with.

There are two plot lines running through the book. The main line revolves around that universal world of the academics and the social issues related to sex, castes and opportunities. The second, but even more enjoyable, line is about Ayyan and Oja's son, the 'genius' Adi - and especially Adi's relationship with Ayyan.

This is a book to be savored. I rarely read a novel a second time; but this is going to remain on my 'to be read' shelves. Even if I don't read it a second time, just seeing it will remind me of the enjoyable time I had and remind me to watch for Manu Joseph's next book. I hope it will come soon!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 24, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
SERIOUS MEN combines serious charm, salacious wit, and combative, scientific cogitations that will appeal to lovers of subversive drollery. It is a comedy of manners, spotlighting the age-old caste consciousness of Brahmins vs. Dalits (formerly Untouchables), taking place primarily in a Scientific Research Institute and also in a Maharashtran chawl, an Indian tenement housing for the poor and lowly.

Two aging, eccentric Brahmin scientists at the Institute of Theory and Research in Mumbai vie for funds and advancement for their dueling theories of alien life. Meanwhile, younger Dalit clerk Ayyan Mani weaves his Machiavellian mischief with the insurgent dexterity of a snake in the grass, but a snake you want to root for. Manu Joseph allows the reader to perceive each character from several viewpoints, and in ever more dicey situations.

Ayyan wants more for his eleven-year-old son, Adi, than a fixed and dismal future typically available for a Dalit. His still-young wife has slipped into a cheerless existence of watching soap operas and automatic functioning, and he longs to inspire her passion again. Achieving these aims requires a cunning treachery and a fierce devotion, one that rivals the outrageous ambitions of the wizards he works for and nimbly intrudes on daily.

Filled with counterpoints and contradictions, as well as a sly merriment on every page, debut author Joseph spins a provocative yarn that builds slowly in the first half, and progresses with an ineluctable immediacy in the latter part of the story, luring the reader into a tight symmetry of scandalous adventure.

"Man is not searching for aliens. Man is searching for man. It's called loneliness. Not science."

Wry, intelligent observations fuel this delicious satire about the search for meaningful existence and the power to find it. Joseph blends an edgy morality tale with a soulful examination of family and love.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Raghu Nathan on November 14, 2010
Format: Paperback
Manu Joseph's 'Serious Men' has an engaging starting line - 'Ayyan Mani's thick black hair was combed sideways and parted by a careless broken line, like the borders the British used to draw between hostile neighbours'. It is not as great as Tolstoy's first line in 'Anna Karinina' or Camus' 'Outsider' but it makes you want to read on. Joseph has a great ability to observe and write as shown by many gems of one or two-liners in the book. The book is predominantly about the scientists of the Institute of Theory and Research in Mumbai and the life of a clerk who works for the Director of the Institute. There are two story lines and they run in parallel without major interactions. The scientists are predominantly Brahmins and - you guessed it - the clerk is Untouchable! The scientist side of the story deals with career politics under the garb of pursuing 'truth', the ensuing scramble for power and associated vicious conspiracies and a bit of sex thrown in between the aged Director and a young Bengali woman scientist. The Untouchable side of the story deals with Ayyan Mani, the clerk, planning and pulling off an elaborate con in passing his ten-year old son as a child genius. Though the story lines wander a bit on their own, the author brings them together to get a good ending.
The book is basically a satirical look at many aspects of the contemporary life in India. The author pokes fun at both the Brahmins and the Untouchables, though he is naturally more merciless on the Brahmins. From the descriptions, it is quite obvious that the author means the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) of Mumbai when he writes 'Institute of Theory and Research'. Since I worked there for four years in the 1970s, I read the book with even greater interest.
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