Author of The City of Devi wins Literary Review prize thanks to threesome set in nuclear-threatened Mumbai
Among the pools of sweat, ripe brie, knotted vines, hot stones, damp glades and chocolatey tobacco in this year’s entries, it was the exploding supernovas of Manil Suri’s third novel, The City of Devi, that clinched him the most dreaded award in the world of books: the Literary Review bad sex prize.
It was presented by Joan Collins – who has unaccountably never won the prize herself despite her many novels and memoirs – in a ceremony attended by 400 guests at the Naval and Military Club in London: the club is generally known as the In & Out.
That was what math professor Manil Suri concluded after looking over his charts and notes in the midst of writing his new novel, The City of Devi. But then he realized that, with all logical possibilities exhausted, he was free, writes Manil Suri in The Daily Beast.
In September, 2009, while on a four-week writing retreat at the Ucross Colony in Clearmont, Wyoming, I came to a startling realization. The novel, The City of Devi, that I’d started nine years ago was hopeless—I needed to abandon it. No matter how I proceeded, I would not be able to tie up its myriad strands. I even had a mathematical proof of this fact! Read more
As a book, The City of Devi offers glib entertainment rather than profound insights into life or human nature. Its trinity of characters (the sanguine Sarita, the intrepid Jaz, the timorous and largely absent Karun) is sufficiently interesting, the plot is far-fetched but nevertheless holds up till the end and the prose is polished. Fortunately, Suri’s interest in revisiting mythology turns out to be cursory, more a matter of a catchy title for the novel (and the triptych) rather than anything more devout. Apart from a persuasive argument on why the trinity is better represented by Devi rather than Brahma in the creator’s role, there is little reason for mythology buffs to add the book to their shelves.
If you grow up in Bombay and learn to thrive on its noise and fumes and crowds, if you can coexist with the rich biodiversity in its water and survive its homicidal traffic and killer trains, then trust me, you will have lots to write about should you ever become an author. Look at me: leaving the city when I was 20, and still beholden to it 33 years later.
Certainly, I’ve tried to work my way free. The nostalgia of growing up in one room of a flat shared with three Muslim families? All expended in my first book, The Death of Vishnu. My parents’ memories of migrating there after partition? Purloined, with gratitude, for The Age of Shiva. A snapshot of the present, followed by a picture of the past – which meant that for the last panel in this triptych, I had to invent the city’s future. A very dystopian, wartorn future, it turns out. Could my latest book, The City of Devi, be an attempt not to write about Mumbai any more by blowing the city up?
Except Mumbai is indestructible – its patron goddess Mumbadevi will surely swoop in to save it. The city has such vast reserves of energy that long after the earth has cooled, it will still be churning out Bollywood films. Like most of the other mesmerised (or should I say infected?) authors listed below, I am destined to keep writing about it.
The quintessential Bombay book by Rushdie is, of course, Midnight’s Children. I’m not listing it here because of the greedy way it chewed up the city’s scenery, unmindful of the generations of subsequent Bombay writers (like me) to come. Got a great idea about monkeys on Elephanta Island? Too bad, Rushdie’s been there. Tetrapods at Marine Drive? Think again, Salman Uncle’s already put his stamp on them.