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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.
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