City Paper is not for tourists
Manil Suri’s 2001 debut novel, The Death of Vishnu, made the most of its cramped setting: Set within a short span of days in a busy Bombay apartment building, the story neatly wove in themes of aging, love, class, and Hindu and Muslim theology. Suri’s concerns aren’t much different in his follow-up, The Age of Shiva, but the canvas is now much broader. The story opens in 1955, a few years after the India-Pakistan partition, as 17-year-old Meera falls for Dev, a would-be playback singer for Bollywood films. They’re caught having an intimate moment in the grave of a Sufi mystic, and the uneasy mix of Hindu and Muslim cultures becomes a throughline in the decades that the novel covers; when Meera’s father isn’t ruling her personal life, he’s obsessing over religious and political reconciliation, while Dev’s brother, Arya, actively supports a right-wing anti-Muslim group. The references to South Asian geopolitics give The Age of Shiva some historical heft, but the novel is mainly a very interior one, focused on the slow collapse of Meera’s marriage to Dev and her efforts to raise their son, Ashvin. Fiction writing is Suri’s side gig—a Silver Spring resident, he teaches mathematics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County—and he takes an amateurish risk by shifting the narrative into second person whenever Meera discusses her baby boy. The tactic essentially infantilizes the reader, but instead of feeling like a desperate move to gin up intimacy, the conceit better exposes Meera’s isolation, both within her home and within the social norms of her country. Suri discusses and signs copies of his work at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 11, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919.