The Death of Vishnu
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The Death of Vishnu

3.7 31
by Manil Suri
     
 

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A compelling spiritual quest viewed through the color and tumult of life in a Bombay apartment block.

At the opening of this masterful debut novel, Vishnu, the resident odd-job man, lies dying on the apartment building staircase he inhabits, while his neighbors, the Pathaks and the Asranis, argue over who will pay for an ambulance. As the action spirals

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Overview

A compelling spiritual quest viewed through the color and tumult of life in a Bombay apartment block.

At the opening of this masterful debut novel, Vishnu, the resident odd-job man, lies dying on the apartment building staircase he inhabits, while his neighbors, the Pathaks and the Asranis, argue over who will pay for an ambulance. As the action spirals up through the floors of the building, the dramas of the residents' lives unfold: Mr. Jalal's obsessive search for higher meaning; Vinod Taneja's longing for the wife he has lost; the comic elopement of Kavita Asrani, who fancies herself the heroine of a Hindi movie.

Suffused with Hindu mythology, this story of one apartment building becomes a metaphor for the social and religious division of contemporary India, and Vishnu's ascent of the staircase parallels the sours progress through the various stages of existence. As Vishnu closes in on the riddle of his own mortality, he begins to wonder whether he might not be the god Vishnu, guardian not only of the fate of the building and its occupants, but of the entire universe.

Editorial Reviews

Seattle Times
"The reader is swept away by Suri's fresh, witty observations and tender comic moments."
Washington Post Book World
"[A] literary accomplishment… eloquent, refined and tasteful.
The Los Angeles Times Book Review
"[THE DEATH OF VISHNU] reads like the work of a highly skilled and experienced practitioner of the writer's craft."
San Fransisco Chronicle
"Suri, at his best, reveals not only a collision of modern and mythic India but a commingling of them."
Newsday
"Marvelously life-embracing … THE DEATH OF VISHNU is a seamlessly constructed, quietly eloquent work of art."
Wall Street Journal
“A delightful and rich first novel…lyrical.”
Boston Globe
“Enchanting…Masterfully created…No telling detail or private vanity escapes the author’s comic yet infinitely compassionate scrutiny.”
New York Times Book Review
"Deft and confident ."
bn.com
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Manil Suri's comic prose and imaginative language transport readers to the petty squabbles and unrelenting conflicts of modern-day India. At the center of the narrative is the character of Vishnu, an aging alcoholic houseboy on the precipice of death, who lies, penniless, on the bottom step of a middle-class Bombay apartment house. While Vishnu appears to face his impending death placidly and philosophically, a maelstrom swirls around him. The residents of the building include a reclusive widower mourning the untimely death of his young wife, a Moslem family coping with the daily prejudices of their Hindu neighbors, and two families who unhappily share a kitchen. Worlds collide when the Moslem family's son elopes with the Hindu family's daughter, and Mr. Jalal, the Moslem family patriarch, apparently flips his wig, recognizing Vishnu not as their dying houseboy but as the deity whose name he bears, with the power to save. And when Mr. Jalal is found sleeping on the stairs beside Vishnu, he becomes the scapegoat for the building's many ills. In its frenetic and hilarious conclusion, The Death of Vishnu trumpets the arrival of an extremely gifted Indian writer, bringing to spectacular life the tempestuous chaos that is life in India today. (Winter 2001 Selection)
Los Angeles Times
Narrator John Lee ably delivers all that is thought provoking and entertaining in this breakout novel.Narrator Joh Lee ably delivers all that is thought provoking and entertaining in this breakout novel.
BookPage
However you interpret this muti-layored novel, you'll be struck by by its fullness and by John Lee's perfectly pitched reading.
Amy Tan
A wonder of a book. From the first page I could tell that this is an astonishing debut, sure to win readers and prizes.
Michael Cunningham
Vibrantly alive, beautifully written, full of wonderfully rich and deeply human characters. . . . Brings to mind . . . Flaubert and Flannery O'Connor.
Marie Clare
Suri makes a striking debut with The Death of Vishnu, his lyrical novel of death and life...
Time
[An] enchanting novel....acheives an eerie and memorable transcendence.
Lee Siegel
[A] full, sweet-scented novel.... Juxtaposing the mundane with the comic, Suri evokes these characters with intelligence, compassion and humor. —Washington Post Book World
Catherine Saint Louis
A wonder.... Vibrant characters and freshly observed psychological insights illuminate The Death of Vishnu. —Time Out New York
Carla Cohen
This beautifully formed and carefully expressed work is a remarkable achievement. —Bookselling This Week
Boris Kachka
[B]oth a richly detailed portrait of a crowded Bombay building and a Hindu allegory of the soul's ascent to Heaven. —New York
Daniel Mendelsohn
Suri is a writer of vivid gifts. His larger thematic preoccupations are balanced by seductively beautiful prose. —New York
Francine Prose
Vivid and engrossing.... [A] work of fiction that seems not only universal but absolutely cosmic. —Elle
Elizabeth Kadetsky
[A] provocative tale of spiritual seeking in contemporary Bombay.... Suri contributes to our understanding of what it means to believe. —San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
Michael Gorra
[A] deft and confident first novel.... finely burnished plots, oblique irony and understated prose; above all, the sense of equipoise. —New York Times Book Review
Anna Mundow
Enchanting....Suri's penetration of his character's lives is as precise and cunning as that of a master surgeon. —Boston Sunday Globe
Suzy Hansen
[D]ynamic...elegant, clever prose and emotional and philosophical probing carry the action of the novel entirely. —Salon.com Books
Padma Viswanathan
Suri misses no comic beat, and makes delicate and inspired use of passages from Hindu myth and indian religious life. —Book
Carol Memmott
[F]resh, original....[T]here is exquisite beauty in Suri's prose. —USA Today
Anne Stephenson
[W]onderfully comedic... .all of it filtered through the imagination of a very talented storyteller. —Arizona Republic
Dan Cryer
Marvelously life-embracing.... A seamlessly constructed, quietly eloquent work of art. —Newsday
Shashi Tharoor
[S]lendid....an exceptionally good novel. —Los Angeles Times
Bharti Kirchner
[T]he reader is swept away by Suri's fresh, witty observations and tender, comic moments. —Seattle Times/Post-Intelligencer
Marta Salij
[A] complex, artistically rich book that is also waarm, inviting and involving. —Detroit Free Press
Boston Sunday Globe
An enchanting first novel...this tale of modern Bombay will delight readers who have had enough of skinny postmodernist fiction.
Newark Star Ledger
[A] highly charged satirical work, splendidly conceived and enormously effective....Here is an adept, scathing talent.
Paper
Suri's mix of religious mysticism and quirky realism makes for a deeply impressive debut.
Bellingham Herald
Witty and sweet and pithy, full of luminous writing...
San Jose Mercury News
[A] masterful novel, written with assurance and great affection for its characters.
Philadelphia City Paper
[A] compassionate, gently mocking portrait of a Bombay apartment building's quirky inhabitants.
Vikram Chandra
Manil Suri has created an intimate and intricate portrait of life in this metropolis.
Jim Crace
The Death of Vishnu finds the Universe in a block of Bombay flats; it is tender, caustic, witty and inspired.
Andrea Barrett
Sympathetic, penetrating, comic and moving, this fine and unusual first novel unexpectedly braids Hindu mythology and traditions...
Time Out New York
A wonder.... Vibrant characters and freshly observed psychological insights illuminate The Death of Vishnu.
Bookselling This Week
This beautifully formed and carefully expressed work is a remarkable achievement.
New York
Suri is a writer of vivid gifts. His larger thematic preoccupations are balanced by seductively beautiful prose.
Elle
Vivid and engrossing.... [A] work of fiction that seems not only universal but absolutely cosmic.
San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
[A] provocative tale of spiritual seeking in contemporary Bombay.... Suri contributes to our understanding of what it means to believe.
Salon.com Books
[D]ynamic...elegant, clever prose and emotional and philosophical probing carry the action of the novel entirely.
Book
Suri misses no comic beat, and makes delicate and inspired use of passages from Hindu myth and indian religious life.
USA Today
[F]resh, original....[T]here is exquisite beauty in Suri's prose.
Arizona Republic
[W]onderfully comedic... .all of it filtered through the imagination of a very talented storyteller.
Seattle Times/Post-Intelligencer
[T]he reader is swept away by Suri's fresh, witty observations and tender, comic moments.
Detroit Free Press
[A] complex, artistically rich book that is also waarm, inviting and involving.
Time Magazine
As this spirit looks back on the life just ending, on the mother who named him after a Hindu god, on the prostitute whom he truly loved, Suri's novel achieves an eerie and memorable transcendence.
Suri has a cynic's sense of humor and a seeker's sense of wonder, and the author deploys both to penetrating effect in his first novel. The book, which takes place in a Bombay apartment building, is about an alcoholic, informally employed gofer, Vishua, who camps on the first-floor landing. The other primary characters are a gaggle of selfish and resignedly mediocre middle-class residents of the building. Each has gained some advantage from Vishua's life, as he has from theirs, and each demonstrates a petty reluctance to deal with his looming death. This is a rich and lovely book. Like U.R. Anantha Murthy's classic 1965 novel, Samskara, in which the body of an unpopular upper caste villager lies decaying in his home while the village squabbles over how to deal with it, it turns a discerning eye on Indian communal life, with its exigencies and odd moralities. Suri misses no comic beat, and makes delicate and inspired use of passages from Hindu myth and Indian religious life.
—Padma Viswanathan

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is a remarkable first novel, whose lyric prose is further enhanced by Lee's soft, mesmerizing reading. The story hinges on the comatose alcoholic Vishnu, who lays dying on the first floor landing of the Bombay apartment building for which he is the houseboy. Suri has fashioned Vishnu as the conduit to each and all of the book's vibrant characters and their intertwined comic, tragic and melodramatic stories. Vishnu enables listeners to move easily through the real, the mystical, the metaphoric; as he gradually slips down into death, he crawls slowly up the stairs, recalling fine and funny scenes of his youth and early manhood. Even listeners unfamiliar with India's religions and the Hindu trinity of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer will marvel at Suri's ability to reveal the tapestry and nuances of Indian culture through the activity contained in one small apartment building, to which Lee's rich and myriad Indian accents add atmosphere and humor. Simultaneous release with the Norton hardcover (Forecasts, Nov. 6, 2000). (Jan.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Vishnu, a dying alcoholic dwelling on a stairway landing of an apartment building in Bombay, comes to suspect that he is, in fact, the god Vishnu. He may also be hallucinating; his slow death ties together the stories of various inhabitants of the building: the comic feud of Mrs. Pathak and Mrs. Asrani; the elopement of a Muslim boy with an immature, movie-obsessed Hindu girl; the rational Mr. Jalal's crisis of faith; and Vishnu's own memories of love with the shallow prostitute Padmini. In an interview at story's end, Suri defines himself as an Indian writer and discusses the implications for his audience. While a layperson's familiarity with Hindu mythology and India's movie industry should suffice to follow the tale, a fuller understanding may elude many U.S. readers. A glossary, for instance, would be helpful, were such a thing possible on cassette. Narrated by John Lee, this audiobook is recommended with reservations. John Hiett, Iowa City P.L. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Los Angeles TImes Book Review
“A finely observed comedy of manners that evolves into searing tragedy, rendered in a tone of wry detachment that paradoxically illuminates its characters' essential humanity...that rare storytelling feat, an evocation of the tragic consequences of comedy.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061467066
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
01/08/2008
Series:
P.S. Series
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.92(h) x 0.75(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Not wanting to arouse Vishnu in case he hadn't died yet, Mrs. Asrani tiptoed down to the third step above the landing on which he lived, teakettle in hand. Vishnu lay sprawled on the stone, his figure aligned with the curve of the stairs. The laces of a pair of sneakers twined around the fingers of one hand; the other lay outstretched, as .if trying to pull his body up the next step. During the night, Mrs. Asrani noted with distress, Vishnu had not only thrown up, but also soiled himself. She had warned her neighbor, Mrs. Pathak, not to feed Vishnu when he was so sick, but did that woman ever listen? She tried not to look at the large stain spreading through the worn material of Vishnu's khaki pants, the ones that her husband had given him last Divali. Mat a mess-the jamadarni would have to be brought in to clean up such a mess, and it would not be free, either, someone would have to pay. Her large frame heaving against the sari in which it was swaddled, Mrs. Asrani peered at Vishnu from the safety of the third step and vowed it would not be her.

A more immediate problem had to be dealt with first-what to do about the cup of tea she brought Vishnu every morning? On the one hand, it was obvious that Vishnu did not have much need for tea right now. Even yesterday, he bad barely stirred when she had filled his plastic cup, and she had felt a flutter of resentment at not having received her usual salaam in return. On the other hand, giving tea to a dying man was surely a very propitious thing to do. Since she had taken this daily task upon herself, it would be foolish to stop now, when at most a few more cups could possibly be required. Besides,who knew what sort of repercussions would rain down upon her if she failed to fulfill this daily ritual?

Pressing the edge of her sari against her nose to keep out the smell, Mrs. Asrani descended gingerly to the landing. Using the scrap of brown paper she had brought along for the purpose, she fished out the cup from the small pile of belongings near Vishnu's head, taking care to always keep the paper between her fingers and the cup, so as not to infect herself with whatever he had. She placed the cup on the step above the landing and poured tea from the kettle. Hating the idea of good tea being wasted, she hesitated when the cup was half full, but only for a second, filling it to its usual level to fulfill her pledge. Then she ascended the steps and surveyed her handiwork. The cup lay steaming where she had left it-but now Vishnu looked like he was stretching out across the landing to try and reach it, like a man dead in the desert, grasping for the drink that could have saved him. She thought about moving the cup to correct this, but the scrap of paper she had used now lay on the landing, and she couldn't be sure which surface had touched the cup. There was nothing she could do anymore, so she turned and climbed up the remaining steps. At the door of her flat, it occurred to her that she still didn't know if Vishnu was alive or dead. But it didn't really matter, she had done her duty in either case. Satisfied, Mrs, Asrani entered her flat and closed the door behind her.

The stream rises lazily from the surface of the tea. It is thick with the aroma of boiled milk, streaked with the perfume of cardamom and clove. It wisps and curls and rises and falls, tracing letters from some fleeting alphabet.

A sudden gust leads it spiraling down to the motionless man. It reaches his face, almost invisible now, and wafts playfully under his nose. Surely the smells it carries awaken memories in the man. Memories of his mother in the tin-and-cardboard hut, brewing tea in the old iron kettle. She would squeeze and press at the leaves, and use them several times over, throwing them away only when no more flavor could be coaxed out. Memories of Padmini, the vapor still devoid of cardamom or clove, but smelling now of chameli flowers fastened like strings of pearls around her wrists. After they had made love, and if she did not have another person waiting, the tea would be carried in by one of the children at the brothel, and they would sit on the bed in silence and sip it from metal tumblers. Memories of Kavita, the steam finally milk-rich and perfumed, her long black tresses framing her smiling face as she bends to fill his cup. For almost a month last year while Mrs. Asrani was sick, it was her daughter Kavita who performed the daily ritual. Vishnu would scrape a broken comb through his knotted hair every morning and wait to deliver a toothy "Salaam, memsahib!" when she came, winking at her with his good eye.

All these memories and more the steam tries to evoke in the man. His mother discarding all her used leaves on festivals, even scooping out a few spoonfuls of sugar to sweeten the tea. Padmini pressing her lips against the metal rim, laughing as she offers him the tumbler stained with unnatural red. Kavita trying to keep her dupatta from falling off as she bends down, passing the kettle from hand to hand so as to not bum her fingers.

A breath of exhaled air emerges from the man's nostrils, fraying the steam into strands. The strands shimmer for a second, then fade away.

It had been almost eleven years now that Mrs. Asrani bad been bringing Vishnu his morning tea. Before that, it had been Tall Ganga for whom she had brought the tea, the old woman who had slept on the landing between the ground and first floors since as far back as anyone could remember. One day, Tall Ganga had announced to Mrs. Pathak and Mrs...

The Death of Vishnu. Copyright © by Manil Suri. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are saying about this

Andrea Barrett
Sympathetic, penetrating, comic and moving, this fine and unusual first novel unexpectedly braids Hindu mythology and traditions...
—Andrea Barrett, National Book Award-winning author of Ship Fever and The Voyage of the Narwhal

Meet the Author

Manil Suri is the best-selling author of The Death of Vishnu, a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, and The Age of Shiva. A native of Mumbai, he is a professor of mathematics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

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Death of Vishnu 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was not one for those looking for an easy read that sits on the coffee table. It was a book that was meant to be read thoroughly, thoughtfully, and with a sense of fantasy to be able to comprehend Vishnu's daydreams as he dies and the unique lives of the dwellers on the Bombay apartment. I read this book for a literature coarse in college and have since read it three more times. Every time I read it I note something new and remember why I was so intrigued the first time. Definately read this book if you enjoy frame stories (stories within stories), Eastern cultures, mythology, the concept of love and how it relates to everything.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Even though it is set in an exotic place, this is the type of plot with which you are familiar. Even if you do not know a great deal about Vishnu and his religious significance, this type of religious journey resembles other things you have probably read. With a group of people, you could have fun discussing this book. There are lots of interesting plot twists and sub plots. The types of characters are also ones that you could have fun analysing. I prefer a warmer tone than this one, which looks at its characters from a distance, and without much tenderness or affection.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Sometimes what we say and do with/for/to those we know, impacts the lives of those we don't know. This book was so on the mark about how lives are 'connected' in ways, positive and negative, and how those relationships affect us. It was funny, sometimes challenging to keep track of where and what time frame I was reading about, informative about Indian life, and always entertaining. A delightful book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really, really enjoyed this book. I wouldn't exactly describe the ending as 'emotionally satisfying,' the journey there was light-hearted and refreshing, with some subtle, poignant insights. If the author is attempting to persuade the reader to consider his or her own humanity, honesty, charity, and love, it is presented in a subtle voice that doesn't overwhelm, but helps the reader to consider his or her own hypocrises by observing it in others. This book is by no means a cliff-hanger, edge-of-your-seat, crying-buckets-of-tears sort of novel, but it is very good, extremely funny, empathic, and critical.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There are numerous funny parts to this book, however, there isn't much of a plot. Vishnu's dream sequences are what help slow the novel down, but this is improved only by accounts of his time with Padmini a prostitute who he loves. The rest of the novel was quite funny and near the end I guessed the author wanted to show the good and disappointing aspects of religion. A lot of things were still left a little unresolved with the tenants of the building and would make for a great sequel. All and all it wasn't that great but was still sort of an enjoyable read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I don't know why people say they read this book to prepare them for trips to India...why not read a travel guide for that? In any event, this novel is a religious and social work done on the lives of various people living in India: one a dying man on the steps of an apartment complex, another a daughter of the upstairs family who's in love with the boy from the downstairs, a crazy radio man who has an interesting past, etc. This book is inundated with Indian words, yes, but I managed to get by just reading and using comprehension skills. Also, I love the way the third-person view switches around, it gives you an opportunity to look at the stories of various people's lives from their own stories, not someone else's. Finally, the dream sequences/dying visions that Vishnu has are incredible. Ironically, they are full of life and are a joy to read. The entire book is poetic and beautiful, and shouldn't be taken as a book to read if you're preparing for a trip to another country. They have National Geographic and Froemmer's for that. :D
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was a struggle to read, had been hoping to learn more about Indian culture, but was sadly disappointed. Way too many words and phrases that were not translateable unless you looked up their meaning in the dictionary in the back. Story had some potential but was just a bit too far out there for me to really be interested in or care to understand. Read 2/3 of the book and gave up, just could not hack it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Simply awful. I was simultaneously bored and depressed. Vishnu does eventually die. Thank goodness, or I was going to have to shoot myself. Personally, I read books first for entertainment (sorry scholars). Still find it incredulous I was able to make it through the whole thing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is what came to my mind after getting half way through the book. The story of the man longing for his wife was superb, I enjoyed it much. The fact that it was entangled with the other stories was a bit distasteful though. I think Suri shouldve just released a book of short stories instead of trying to intwine them into a novel. Something was lost in the combination of all of the stories. If ever I read the book again- I will seek to read the stories as stories instead of reading them tangled together.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read The Death of Vishnu in preparation for a travel course to India. While I was hoping to gain some insight into Indian culture, I found the book to be SO inundated with Hindi words and philosophy that it became bogged down. Instead of learning about India, I found myself scratching my head and wondering what Manil Suri could have possibly been thinking. The ever-changing third person narrators kept me from feeling any connection with the characters. Hearing the story from one character, or even from several first-person narrators, probably would have helped me relate to and appreciate the story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book has a beautiful textured cover that made you look at it, then continue walking. It's the rare person that actually picks the book up and reads it. We are pulled into the private apartment life of four families. Their quarrels, conversations and their vulnerabilities. But the centerpiece of this story is Vishnu, the houseboy that lies dying on the steps. We never get any true insight into the psyche of Vishnu other than the vague yet compelling interludes of his life. As for the voyage of his adventure as the god Vishnu, we are pulled into the realm of skeptism as we toy with whether this is a dream or reality as we know it. Overall, this book is a compelling tale that makes you savor every word 'till the end. But in retrospect, you begin to find frayed ends rather than the smooth endings you thought there were. But sometimes there's a whole different story in an unraveled cord.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This books brings the plight of the normal man. Another book in recent times of the same calibre is a Novel in Verse called Dark Rooms written bu Siddharth Katragadda. Both explore the same theme but differently
Guest More than 1 year ago
I will not recommend this book to someone who has never been in India. It paints the life of only one group of people in India and he overdoes it sometimes.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I kept on passing by this book and each time I picked it up, I'd put it down. Something caught my attention. Perhaps, it was the texture of the book, gold features on the book cover or the awkward imagery of the characters. So, now the book is in my hand, and I am ready to read it after passing by it over 100 times. I just thought I 'd let folks know why I picked up the book. Expect a review of the Death Of Vishnu. I do like the reading and discussion guide. I will rate the cover of this book only for now. There should be a category for this.This book has staying power, and I am happy to see that it is ranked so high. There are other book covers alone that I am interested in obtaining. Sometimes, that's all an avid reader has to go by when shopping online.