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The Death of Vishnu: A Novel Paperback – June 18, 2012
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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
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.
Fascinating view of Indian society. Very well written. Compassionate understanding of all levels of society. How rich help the poor in a caste society. And the reverse.
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!)