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The Death of Vishnu
Published in Audio Cassette by HarperAudio (2001)
Author: Manil Suri
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Bollywood mirth meets Hindu myths
Humorous, humane, mythical, and ultimately poignant, "The Death of Vishnu" describes one chaotic day in the lives of the inhabitants of a Bombay apartment building.

The novel begins with a series of comic sketches revolving around two bickering wives, their submissive husbands, and who is going to take care of Vishnu--the homeless drunk lying near death on the landing in the stairwell. The tensions in the building escalate when a young Hindu woman elopes with a neighboring Muslim son. To describe the plot of the novel any further is to risk making it sound like the Indian version of "Melrose Place"; the plot is much more carefully nuanced and the protagonists are too fully realized for this novel to resemble a mere soap opera.

Suri weaves together several strands of Indian society: religious themes, Bollywood influences (although the characters don't break out in song), social pretensions, Hindu-Muslim hostilities. Although he often mocks his characters' aspirations and delusions, his portrayals are more loving than derisive. And don't let the Hindu allusions that abound in the book scare you away from the joy of reading it; most readers should find the religious elements both accessible and entertaining.

Although the novel is beautifully written, I often found his choice of when to use non-English terms perplexing. I can understand why the author would use words that are not readily translatable: "dharma" (sacred duty), "sadhu" (Hindu holy man), ghungroo (a bell-adorned anklet). But why "bandar" (monkey), or pista ("pistachio"), "masjid" (mosque), or "tamasha" (spectacle)? Or, more to the point, why make non-Indian readers flip back to the glossary for words such as these but not similar words that are rendered simply in English (dog, walnut, temple, mob)? This is a minor complaint, however; after a while, the reader is able to figure out the meaning of many words from their context, and I ended up ignoring the glossary for most of the last half of this enchanting book.

Captured my intrigue until the end
I wish I could write a debut novel like this. Having just finished a class in Religions of India, I had little difficulty finding my way through the book and the moments where Suri slips in small tales of Hindu religious mythology. (But have no worries: Suri includes a short glossary in the back that I, unfortunately, did not discover until the end.) I enjoyed watching the way that Suri addressed the conflict of Muslims and Hindus, and the problems of modern Hindu women and their arranged marriages. My only negative comment is: the way my friend hyped this book up to me, I expected more of a parallel between characters of Hindu mythology and the characters that live in the apartment building where this novel takes place. I thought they would have a more direct relationship with Vishnu as a God, not Vishnu, the man dying on the stairs. All in all, if you are interested in witnessing the comings and goings of one building in modern Bombay, take a trip with this book. It's delightful and whimsical.

A rich and dazzling tale
The Death of Vishnu is a book to be experienced rather than simply read as Suri weaves mythology and psychology with Hindu and Muslim religious motifs. Each character in an Indian apartment building dances to the music of his/her position in life, caught up in the daily squabbles and sensuous pursuits that Hindu religion teaches are necessary until one becomes sated by that lifestyle and moves on to another stage. The book focuses on the fate of Vishnu who lies dying on the stairs, but I found Mr. Jalal's determined, almost comical, struggles to achieve a higher state of consciousness to also be central. When he takes his literal and precipitous leap of faith I held my breath for the outcome. The story of the resident at the very top of the building (top symbolizing most highly evolved) was equally suspenseful, while the spiritual status of the female characters goes unexplored except for their concern for tending to the prostrate Vishnu. What I began feeling was simply a conglomerate of social vignettes turned into a rich kaleidoscope of life from the perspective of Eastern religion. The book, like life, becomes a journey through complex terrain. If I have any criticism it is that some of the characters seemed like familiar types. Do not let this keep you from reading it, however, as the experience of Vishnu's demise is quite original and the writing is beautiful from beginning to end.

Death Of Vishnu Airport Edition
Published in Paperback by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (22 February, 1901)
Author: Suri Manil
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La muerte de Vishnu (The Death of Vishnu)
Published in Mass Market Paperback by Punto de Lectura (01 March, 2002)
Authors: Manil Suri and Manil Suril
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