I started reviewing books when I first read, “The Death of Vishnu” by Manil Suri. In fact, that review is also one of the first on this blog. From there on I have read everything that he has written, not because of the fact stated above, but because I admire his writing and his thought process. Suri has the uncanny ability to make so much sense of ordinary situations. His characters aren’t larger than life, however the circumstances are and with good reason – to move the plot ahead, to make the reader see and above all, to make them feel.
It is no wonder that I absolutely loved reading his new book, “The City of Devi” (the last in the not so connected series). “The City of Devi” has been touted as a dystopian novel; however I did not think it had anything to do with it. The story as his other two books has been set in Mumbai. It is about Sarita, a thirty-three year old statistician (the math angle did not surprise me considering Manil is a mathematician) who can throughout only think of one thing: To be reunited with her physicist husband Karun, who has disappeared. The times are tough: Mumbai is emptying itself under the threat of a nuclear annihilation. There are not many people left. This has almost led to anarchy. The past can but only be remembered.
Amidst all this Sarita sets out to search for her husband, in-between the gang wars of Hindus and Muslims (this angle makes you also choke a little). With her is Jaz, a Muslim whose religion is only to have sex with other men. That is what he enjoys the most – sex and nothing else and at the same time he is looking for his own lover in the city. The third angle to the book is the Goddess Devi herself who has materialized on the beach to save her city. Sarita, Jaz and Devi play their roles in the book from there on. That in short, is the summary of the book.
The book is quite unusual. Something that probably has never been tried by an Indian writer. The book is easy to read and yet there were times, I had to stop and think more about the scene I had just read or turn back the pages and read some parts all over again. Devi and her role in the book is humongous (but of course), and yet it is so calming at times, that I almost wished that she would materialize in this time and age to save her city. On the other hand, I could most relate to Jaz and his dilemma – the way he is searching for answers and not finding any.
Manil’s writing is direct in most parts and yet the web he weaves of storytelling almost leaves the reader breathless. His descriptions of a dying city are breathtaking. You can relate and yet at times, you choose not to. The city comes alive with his words and that is the power of some great writing. The situations he creates aren’t easy, the answers provided are not black or white, and yet as you turn the pages of “The City of Devi” all you want is to feel the city and hope that the characters’ lives are sorted. A must read this season.