Ruined by Reading

The Death of Vishnu

Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction by M on November 20, 2008

(From back cover) Vishnu, the odd job man in a Bombay apartment block, lies dying on the staircase landing. Around him the lives of the apartment dwellers unfold: the warring housewives on the first floor, lovesick teenagers on the second, and the widower, alone and quietly grieving on the top floor of the building. In a fevered state Vishnu looks back on his love affair with the seductive Padmini and wonders if he might actually be the god Vishnu, guardian of the entire universe.

Blending incisive comedy with Hindu mythology and a dash of Bollywood sparkle, The Death of Vishnu is an intimate and compelling view of an unforgettable world.

As the book’s description states, The Death of Vishnu is about the lives of those living in the building Vishnu sleeps and works in. On the first floor, Mrs. Asrani and Mrs. Pathak can’t stop arguing long enough to get anything done, including getting Vishnu to a doctor. On the second floor are the Jalals, a Muslim family everyone loves to hate. It is Mr. Jalal who dreams that Vishnu reveals himself to him as the god Vishnu. He feels it is his duty to call the others to worship him. It is this, as well as the fact that his son Salim has run off with Kavita, the Asrani girl, that gets everyone into trouble. Then on the top floor is Mr. Taneja, a widower who lost his wife to cancer.

Then, of course, there is Vishnu, the drunk who runs errands for everyone in the building. He falls ill and lies dying on the stairs for days. He experiences an out of body episode and can see everything going on around him. When he hears Mr. Jalal ranting about how Vishnu is Lord Vishnu, he begins to believe it himself.

The background stories of these characters is told in flashbacks, and it’s what makes the book so interesting. I really loved reading about Mr. Taneja’s marriage and how he fell in love with his wife. But the flashbacks to Vishnu’s time spent with Padmini, a prostitute that he was in love with, left a bad taste in my mouth. I didn’t really like Vishnu’s character, but I did enjoy the retelling of stores his mother told him when he was a child, of Jeev, a man who lived many lives. My favorite was the story of Jeev, who fell in love with Arjun while he was living his life as a bird.

The book was comical at times, and there was plenty of interesting Hindu mythology. At first I thought the book was just too strange to like, but I began to enjoy it about halfway through. It’s still a very strange book, but it’s entertaining. It’s inspired me to read the Bhagavad Gita.

Rating: 3/5

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3 Responses

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  1. […] The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri […]

  2. S. Krishna said, on November 24, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    This one sounds really interesting – I might have to check it out!

  3. veens said, on November 27, 2008 at 5:04 am

    Really Interesting . I have never known about this book :)


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