Friday, 20 March 2009

The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri

DATE PUBLISHED: 2001 DATE READ: March 2009 NOTES: The Death of Vishnu is set in an apartment block in Bombay where Vishnu (a general dogsbody who has lived on the landing for years) lies dying. The people living in the block and those who work in the street all become involved in his final days. The Pathaks and the Asranis continue their feud (about sharing a kitchen) and quarrel further about whether Vishnu should be taken away by ambulance. However this suggestion arises more because Mrs Pathak didn’t want her card-playing friends to see his disgusting state rather than from any humanitarian motives. 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.

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