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