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The Death of Vishnu: A Novel Paperback – January 8, 2002

4.1 out of 5 stars 138 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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

This is a remarkable first novel, whose lyric prose is further enhanced by Lee's soft, mesmerizing reading. The story hinges on the comatose alcoholic Vishnu, who lays dying on the first floor landing of the Bombay apartment building for which he is the houseboy. Suri has fashioned Vishnu as the conduit to each and all of the book's vibrant characters and their intertwined comic, tragic and melodramatic stories. Vishnu enables listeners to move easily through the real, the mystical, the metaphoric; as he gradually slips down into death, he crawls slowly up the stairs, recalling fine and funny scenes of his youth and early manhood. Even listeners unfamiliar with India's religions and the Hindu trinity of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer will marvel at Suri's ability to reveal the tapestry and nuances of Indian culture through the activity contained in one small apartment building, to which Lee's rich and myriad Indian accents add atmosphere and humor. Simultaneous release with the Norton hardcover (Forecasts, Nov. 6, 2000).

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 301 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1st edition (January 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006000438X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060004385
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (138 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #587,288 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Vivek Tejuja on May 23, 2001
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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