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The Death of Vishnu: A Novel Paperback – January 1, 2002
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"The reader is swept away by Suri's fresh, witty observations and tender comic moments." (Seattle Times)
"[THE DEATH OF VISHNU] reads like the work of a highly skilled and experienced practitioner of the writer's craft." (The Los Angeles Times Book Review)
"Suri, at his best, reveals not only a collision of modern and mythic India but a commingling of them." (San Fransisco Chronicle)
"Marvelously life-embracing . THE DEATH OF VISHNU is a seamlessly constructed, quietly eloquent work of art." (Newsday)
"Enchanting.Masterfully created.No telling detail or private vanity escapes the author's comic yet infinitely compassionate scrutiny." (Boston Globe)
"A delightful and rich first novel.lyrical." (Wall Street Journal)
"Deft and confident ." (New York Times Book Review)
About the Author
- Publisher : Harper Perennial; 1st edition (January 1, 2002)
- Language: : English
- Paperback : 301 pages
- ISBN-10 : 006000438X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0060004385
- Item Weight : 8.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.31 x 0.68 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #8,145,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I enjoyed visiting the sights of Mumbai, as portrayed in the novel. However, I had problems with many elements of the story. (Admittedly, I probably don't understand enough of Indian society to fully appreciate the book, especially all of the references to Bollywood.) For instance, middle-class women become upset with Vishnu's death inconveniently interrupts their kitty party. I found this unbelievable. I also was frustrated by the lack of depth in the various married couples' relationships, and the shrewishness of the women. Couldn't we have had at least one truly loving couple, or one compassionate soul.
Overall, I found the book vaguely dissatisfying. It left me with the feeling that life is meaningless, and only illusion. When one character experiences a form of enlightenment, it didn't feel quite right; it didn't seem to have been written by a genuine believer in a spiritual search. The book was skillfully written, but failed to uplift me as a (Western) reader.
There is Vishnu, and bum sort of handy-man that sleeps on a landing in the apartment building. He is dying, and some of the scenes are his dreams/afterlife visions - whichever way you want to look at it. It flashes back, and you get to see some of Vishnu's life as a young boy & man in order to further understand his situation.
There are three married couples in the building - each of them with different marital problems, issues with their children, and religious standpoints. Two of the wives are always bickering, which makes for some comical scenes.
There is one widower in the building, who we don't learn much about until later, but his story reflects a lot upon the way Indians are married and how some deal with it.
All of the characters are wonderfully developed, and the narration is done by several of them, so the reader gets a glimpse into each of their thoughts.
It is set in an apartment building. The neighbors are all fighting over whose responsibility it is to care for the dying Vishnu or who needs to remove his body when he dparts.
THE RELIGIOUS UNDERTONES:
Vishnu is a Hindu god, and in his death, the character Vishnu begins to wonder if he himself is a reincarnation of the god. There are many references to Hindu folklore and mythology in the story - but even if one is unfamiliar with these tales, it is explained well.
One of the families in the building is Muslim and the rest are Hindu. One gets a glimpse of the ongoing rivalry and hatred between the two groups on a small scale as well as some of the differences and similarities between the personal lives of the two religions. The author does a good job of not making the reader prefer either of the two religions, especially by plotting for the son and daughter of the two families to maybe elope - and Romeo and Juliet type plot.
Indian culture and flavor can be sensed from this novel - even for one who is unfamiliar. The foods, the cafes, the movies, the churches, the city, etc. are all touched upon. And bless the author for putting a comprehensive GLOSSARY at the back, for all of the Indian terms that he uses. It makes it informative and a pleasure to read.
This book was very enjoyable for both it's cultural knowledge as well as the family aspects that everyone can appreciate (well, everyone that HAS a family!)
To me, the story is about love and marriage, what it means and how it develops and grows--or fails to. Each of the characters has a unique experience of love. Vishnu's home is on the landing of the staircase in the apartment building. He is unloved. As he lies dying, the people he knows walk by him, not doing anything they don't have to. Another couple has been married for years, came close to loving each other, but then let it pass them by. Another man still mourns his wife who died many years ago. A young woman shares a forbidden love with a man of a different religion. This is what I think is the main exploration of the novel, and it is beautifully done.
On top of that is the callousness, jealousy, pettiness, and self-involvement of these average people living average, meaningless lives and making them more meaningless by their own actions or lack thereof.
The use of dialect and foreign words (I assume Hindu but there are so many languages in India that I am not sure). The author does this with just the touch that is necessary to bring the culture to life but not so much that it confuses or alienates the reader. This is how it should be done but seldom is.
Top reviews from other countries
Mr Jalal (a Muslim) seeks spiritual enlightenment and, following a period of fasting and physical deprivation, believes he can find this via the dying Vishnu. Jalal's son is having an illicit affair with Kavita, daughter of the Hindu Asranis. The Asranis are keen to arrange a marriage for Kavita and she is introduced to a suitable young man but decides instead to elope with Salim. And on the top floor is Vinod who is still mourning the loss of his beloved wife.
The book is a mixture of tragedy and comedy and draws heavily on Hindu mythology. As Vishnu lies dying he remembers his mother and the stories she told about the incarnations and avatars of Vishnu. Vishnu also remembers a love affair with a prostitute Padmina but confuses her with Kavita who comes to visit him. Jalal, in his confusion, becomes convinced that Vishnu has become a god and announces this to everyone only to find this is greeted with hostility.
The Death of Vishnu paints a vivid picture of life in Bombay. It is in turns touching and "laugh out loud" funny. A superb debut novel and I look forward to reading more from this writer.
I struggled to understand what it was about from the very beginning. Too many characters to remember. I got to the end but regret the time and effort involved. I see it is the author's first book. For me it will be the first and last.