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The Death of Vishnu: A Novel Hardcover – January, 2001

4.1 out of 5 stars 136 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Hindu Gods Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The title of Manil Suri's first novel gets right to the point. His protagonist, having purchased the right to sleep on the ground-floor landing of a Bombay apartment house, slips slowly from a coma into death. As this aging alcoholic takes leave of the earth, his neighbors surround him, arguing over who gave Vishnu a few dried chapatis, who called the doctor for him, and who will pay for the ambulance to cart him away. Meanwhile, the hero of The Death of Vishnu is lost in memories. Drifting through increasingly vivid scenes from his past, he recalls his relatively rare snatches of love and joy--and especially his romance with Padmini, a self-involved prostitute. On one particular day, it seems, he stole one of his employer's cars and drove his love interest to the honeymoon town of Lonavala, where he showered her with gifts and finally lifted her veil to kiss her like a bride:
Then the absurdity of the situation strikes him. The preposterousness of his images, the foolishness of his feelings, the comicality of chasing currents that skim across Padmini's face. He thinks how absurd this whole trip has been, how absurd is the presence of the two of them in Lonavala, how absurd is the scenery itself that stretches before them. He thinks of poor, ridiculous Mr. Jalal, waiting back in Bombay for his Fiat, and of how Padmini will react when he asks her to buy them petrol so they can get back.
Vishnu also recalls his secret passion for Kavita Asrani, the beautiful teenage daughter of one of the families for whom he works. Given the protagonist's focus on his hapless love life, the scope of Suri's dazzling debut may appear narrow. However, the apartment house upon whose floor Vishnu spends his final hours functions as a microcosm of Indian society. It helps to know even a smattering about Hindu mythology or India's religious conflicts. But even if you don't, there is plenty to relish in The Death of Vishnu, with its comical, richly drawn characters, loving attention to the details of everyday life, and provocative exploration of destiny and free will. --Regina Marler

From Publishers Weekly

Visualizing a village, a hotel or an apartment building as a microcosm of society is not a new concept to writers, but few have invested their fiction with such luminous language, insight into character and grasp of cultural construct as Suri does in his debut. The inhabitants of a small apartment building in Bombay are motivated by concerns ranging from social status to spiritual transcendence while their alcoholic houseboy, Vishnu, lies dying on the staircase landing. During a span of 24 hours, Vishnu's body becomes the fulcrum for a series of crises, some tragic, some farcical, that reflect both the folly and nobility of human conduct. To the perpetually quarreling first-floor tenants, Mrs. Pathak and Mrs. Asrani, Vishnu is a recipient of grudging charity and casual calumny; each justifies her refusal to pay for his hospitalization. Though locked in perpetual bickering, the women are united in their prejudice against their upstairs neighbors, the Jahals, who are Muslims. While Mr. Jahal seeks to test his intellectual agnosticism by seeking spiritual enlightenment, his son, Samil, and the Asranis' spoiled, willful daughter, Kavita, prepare to defy their families by running away together. On the third floor, reclusive widower Vinod Taneja still mourns his young wife, Sheetal; their story of tentative love blossoming into deep devotion and truncated by early death is an exquisite cameo of a marital relationship. Interspersed are Vishnu's lyrically rendered thoughts as his soul leaves his body and begins a slow ascent of the apartment stairs, rising through the stages of existence as he relives memories of his gentle mother and his passion for the prostitute Padmina. Suril has a discerning eye for human foibles, an empathetic knowledge of domestic interaction and an instinctive understanding of the caste-nuanced traditions of Indian society. The excesses of life in that countryDthe oppressive heat, the mixture of superstitions and religious fanaticism, the social crueltyDpermeate the atmospheric narrative. By turns charming and funny, searing and poignant, dramatic and farcical, this fluid novel is an irresistible blend of realism, mysticism and religious metaphor, a parable of the universal conditions of human life. Agent, Nicole Aragi. (Jan.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (January 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393050424
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393050424
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 0.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #485,204 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
On a breezy Sunday afternoon, I happened to read "The Death Of Vishnu" by Manil Suri. I picked up this book with great trepidation. Also, on the personal front, who would like to read about a man dying? That's what I thought until I read this one. As the title goes, the narrative also comes directly to the point - that of Vishnu, an odd job man, laying dead on an apartment landing of Mumbai. This is where the crux of the story lies.
Here we meet the Pathaks and the Asranis, two arch rival neighbours; what's worse is that they share the same kitchen and each claims to be taking care of Vishnu better.
Then on the other hand there are the Jalals - the husband who doesn't believe in any religion and just wants to gain spiritualism the easy way; the son Salim who is madly in love with the Asranis' daughter Kavita (here comes the Hindu-Muslim divide).
Not to forget the Tanejas - Vinod Taneja whose wife's death has left him with so much grief that he just doesn't get out of his apartment anymore...
And what's surprising is that all these characters are intertwined with one. And the connecting factor: Vishnu! The story binds itself based on what others perceive Vishnu to be - his mother, the Pathaks, the Jalals, the Asranis, Padmini, Kavita, and others like the scavenger and the sweeper working in the apartment. There is a holistic perspective to the point that it infringes on who Vishnu really is and what he embodies for all the bystanders.
There is a singular thread running through the book - that of isolation on various levels. The Pathaks and Asranis share a kitchen, almost to the point of invading each other's privacy and yet are so distant and cold. Vishnu is dead and yet no one wants to claim him and take him to the nearest morgue.
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By San on May 30, 2002
Format: Paperback
The Death of Vishnu has become one of my absolute favorite novels. Although some reviews have called its characters a representative microcosm of India, I believe the message is much simpler and much broader than that. This is a book about human nature, in all its ugliness and glory. The characters are superbly well drawn--sometimes they come across as despicable, other times sympathetic, but they are always heartbreakingly real. Watch how all thier seemingly altruistic acts have selfish human motives behind them and you will recognize yourself. One of the nicest things about this book is the odd little quirks that Manil Suri gives his characters. Mr. Jalal (my favorite) trying to burn himself with pink candles in order to achieve spiritual enlightment, Mrs. Pathak serving kraft cheese as a foreign delicacy, Kavita's obsession with Hindi films, Sheetal's dying wish to make it into the Guiness Book of World Records...and of course Vishnu, who starts to wonder if he might be god. It's a rich tapestry, and so very different from anything I've ever read before...Despite the aimless nature of the plot, the novel still built up a great deal of suspense at the end, and unlike most supposedly "suspenseful" stories I honestly had no idea how everything was going to turn out. And when I finally finished it I was left with a greater understanding of how human beings can be so horrible in so many little ways. I believe this is a book everyone would benefit from reading, not just people specifically interested in India or Indian fiction. However, it should be noted that there is a great deal of Hindu mythology in this book. Being Indian myself I was familiar with most of it, but other readers might want to get a little background information beforehand.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Difficult to believe - that this is a first novel! Manil Suri has chosen a theme both timeless and extraordinarily unique as he sculpts the life of a dying man (the proces is not morbid, just a fine substrate for weaving a tale) through the overheard conversations of the folk living in the boarding house on whose steps he lies. In many ways this short novel is like extending that flash of light when all of our life appears before us just at the moment of death - extending it long enough to relish the myriad aspects of living. This is a last gasp...but filled with so much treasure that you'll find yourself hoping it never ends. Suri's writing style is unfettered, concise, colorful, and always maintains a simplicity of style that begs for revisiting. An auspicious debut. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
I read this book in one sitting. (Okay, I stopped to sleep from 2 am to 9 am.) And this is my first review on Amazon.com. What can I say ... the book inspired me.
Because of the incredible character details, Suri converts the the mundane into the sublime, the logic of his characters makes the impossible possible. Rarely have characters populated a world so foreign, yet so accessible. I am a filmmaker and realize the difficulty of the task that Suri succeeds at so effortlessly; his absoulute control of the visual images he invokes on every page. Radiowala's styrofoam, Mrs. Asrani's TruTone, the mango goddess and her sap-filled scars, and the glucose biscuits dipped in tea; fleeting images are immortalized in these pages.
I have already recommended this book to friends and am on this site to order some more copies as gifts.
Read this one, you can't go wrong.
And Mr. Suri, if you do read these reviews, I eagerly await your next book. I congratulate you on your act of creation and thank you for it.
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