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The Age of Shiva: A Novel Paperback – January 12, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
The second novel from Suri (The Death of Vishnu) follows Meera Sawhney from her unhappy 1950s marriage to aspiring singer Dev Arora through to her own son's coming-of-age. After an impulsive act forces Meera's marriage at 17, her complex, controlling father decries her tying herself (and, by extension, her family) to the provincial, lower-class Aroras. Meera soon finds herself pulled in different directions by her in-laws' religious orthodoxy, her father's progressivism (which doesn't run deep), her husband's self-pitying alcoholism and her own resentment. She finds salvation in the birth of a son, Ashvin; mother love, which Suri describes in intensely physical terms, gives her life passion and purpose, and overwhelms her adult relationships. But as India modernizes, Meera senses that Ashvin, and she herself, must live their own lives. Suri renders Meera's perspective marvelously, especially in small particulars (such as Meera's deliberations around the cutting of Ashvin's hair) and in the perils and conflicts Meera faces in her relationships with men. He also takes a close look at Hindu practices and charts the rise of religious nationalism in the years following Gandhi's death. Suri's vivid portrait of a woman in post-independence India engages timeless themes of self-determination.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Manil Suri’s debut novel, The Death of Vishnu (PEN/Faulkner Award nominee, 2002), satirized families in a single apartment building in Bombay. The Age of Shiva, about women’s subjugation, postindependence Indian politics, and Hindu-Muslim conflicts, offers a more panoramic view of Indian society. A few critics compared it to Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, but The Age of Shiva is a smaller, tighter work, ambitious in scope if not as wholly successful. Written as a letter from Meera to her son, the novel shines with luminous prose, Hindu myths, and mother-child bonds, but bogs down as it chronicles the decades. Most critics agreed, however, that Suri effectively portrays Meera as the embodiment of an India caught between tradition and modernization.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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"Death of Vishnu" was an extraordinary novel. To me, "Age of Shiva" is just another Indian novel which leaves the reader feeling sad and sorry for most if not all of the characters.
Written in the second person, Meera is describing her life of sacrifice in India during the decades from the 1950s to the 1980s to her son Ashvin. The female narrator comes to life under the author's careful sketch. After the first chapter, I read the biography of the author and discovered Manil Suri is a man - another off-kilter revelation. Suri pulls it off.
The book is at its best in the descriptions of India's turmoil under the rule of Nehru and then Indira Ghandi. The racial and religious tensions is given life through the other characters close to Meera. Her brother-in-law belongs to the radical HRM, which hopes to drive out all other religions from India, leaving Hindu as the ruling majority class. Meera's father is non-religious and likes to flaunt his secularism in the face of his very nonsecular Hindu wife. He invites Muslims to the house for dinner and socializes with them in public. However, when Meera's younger sister marries a Muslim, even the father has difficulty accepting it. Meera remains on the outside looking in.
Meera's life is run by the men, which is most likely a true portrayal of an Indian woman. She is passive aggressive with those men as she finds ways to defy them. The punishments inflicted on her are a steep price to pay for her momentary thrill in winning a small victory.
Suri paints a very complicated portrait of a mother and son. As Ashvin grows into a young man, the relationship becomes wholly unhealthy. Meera selfishly tries to keep him to herself and what ensures is difficult and horrifying to read. It is the son who finally has the guts to do something about the taboo broken in the sacred bond between mother and child.
I enjoyed this book most of the time, although the descriptions sometimes bogged down the reading. I thought the ending dragged on far too long. The conflicted relationships between Meera and her son, father, husband, brother-in-law, and sister took too long to resolve. And most of them were resolved unsatisfactorily.
If you love historical novels from the twentieth century set in another world from the one in which you live, you'll find plenty to enjoy in this novel. However, be forewarned that parts of it may make you uncomfortable.
The Death of Vishnu is Manil Suri's first book, and it received much more acclaim than this one. I like the author enough to read it one of these days, but hopefully I'll manage to do that sooner than five years from now.
Just a side note, I congratulate the author for his fine writing manner, but suggest he try to stay out of the minds and hearts of women. I recently broke off an engagement to an Indian doctor from Punjab, so am familiar with the culture. I respect so much the Hindu culture. The reason??? His weird attachment to his rather horrible daughters. Maybe this is one reason the story line hits me so hard-men think like this-not women. Maybe he is Meera. Spoiled, huge girls (twice the size of their father), both in their 30's, who are totally dependent on his money; the webbing holding them together is salacious and slimy in nature. His manic obsession with them could possibly have included crossing boundaries in their growing up. I escaped from what would have been just too weird of a life for me. Stay a man, my dear author, you are no where near being a woman. Respectfully, Miki