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Serious Men: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Manu Joseph
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A poignant, bitingly funny Indian satire and love story set in a scientific institute and in Mumbai’s humid tenements.

Ayyan Mani, one of the thousands of dalit (untouchable caste) men trapped in Mumbai’s slums, works in the Institute of Theory and Research as the lowly assistant to the director, a brilliant self-assured astronomer. Ever wily and ambitious, Ayyan weaves two plots, one involving his knowledge of an illicit romance between his married boss and the institute’s first female researcher, and another concerning his young son and his soap-opera-addicted wife. Ayyan quickly finds his deceptions growing intertwined, even as the Brahmin scientists wage war over the question of aliens in outer space. In his debut novel, Manu Joseph expertly picks apart the dynamics of this complex world, offering humorous takes on proselytizing nuns and chronicling the vanquished director serving as guru to his former colleagues. This is at once a moving portrait of love and its strange workings and a hilarious portrayal of men’s runaway egos and ambitions.

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.

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

Product Details

  • File Size: 489 KB
  • Print Length: 321 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0393338592
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (August 2, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00403NKS2
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,161 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astounding! 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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent first book November 14, 2010
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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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seriously satirical comedy of manners 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Manu Joseph is a Fraud!
IF you read his articles and editorials, you would find a subtle dig at Hindu culture and Hinduism. He has his "Cross" to bear, so we understand. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Phoenix
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly Entertaining, different but not so disturbing
It is good, seriously. I am dissatisfied with the way it ends and its possible disturbing portrayal of Indian Caste system. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Kiran
4.0 out of 5 stars A fabulous story that may have slipped past your radar
When I read a wonderful book like Serious Men that actually debuted in 2010, I wonder how many amazing books slip through the cracks. This one certainly did. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Debnance at Readerbuzz
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful and amusing insight into the world of academia
This funny, intelligent and very sensuous book is a wonderful insight into the hothouse world of academia. Read more
Published 6 months ago by John Joyce
4.0 out of 5 stars comical read
If you're looking for a light, fun read, then this is your book. Comical read that makes you chuckle all the way thru
Published 8 months ago by SK
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Writing
This is a funny tale, not outrageously so, but suffused with humour. The writing is excellent. There is an underlying sadness to it, that portrays the human predicament, especially... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Aviott John
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing
Loved the book, it was an exceptional combination of well written and compelling characterization, a snapshot of a time and place that left me wanting more
Published 11 months ago by lotuseater42
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Funny.
This book explores the Indian culture from the view of the haves, and have nots. It has an amazing ending that could never be anticipated. Read more
Published 15 months ago by kathleen
5.0 out of 5 stars Takes you to another Country and thrills you with it's brilliance
When I started to read this book, I didn't know what to expect. The details given while reading takes you right into the pages and makes you believe you are there. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Dana
4.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious novel
Manu Joseph's first novel, Serious Men is a wonderful book. The characters are all lively and make an interesting read. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Aditya Relangi
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