Thursday, January 22, 2009

Book Review: The Death of Vishnu: A Novel, by Manil Suri

The book is centered on a small group of people, one of which, a drunkard named Vishnu, is dying. Weaving its way in and out of the lives of those that live, love, and die within it, the story takes place almost exclusively in a single apartment building in Mumbai, India. It's a book that lacks a variety of settings, or even a defined plot for that matter. What it does have are snapshots. Snapshots of each character that give you a brief glimpse into their present; and with each snapshot a caption in the form of memories from the past that give the stories and characters feeling, depth, and meaning. As the reader you are shown the paths the characters have walked and then are allowed to briefly walk beside them. As you do you can see the path ahead split into all the different, interweaving tracks each character could take. Good stories, after all, are about character development. But in this good story, these good stories, the characters stay on their respective paths, not for a lack of story, but because that's what people do. You think that because the headstrong young woman gets a taste of the real world, perhaps she will shed some of her naivety. You hope that since they have let a man die on their doorsteps, the neighbors might abandon their pettiness. As you read you try to will the characters to a different, higher path; but that's not how life works. And that's what this book is, a book about life, snapshots about life, capturing only a few moments in time. But like the Hindu mythology that permeates the lives of the characters, their stories don't end just because the book does. The various story lines, all woven together, don't tie off neatly in the end. Rather than leaving you feeling empty and frustrated, like some books which a lack a clear resolution, you accept that there is no end. As in reincarnation, the end only represents a link in the infinite chain of creation. So it is with this book.

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