The City of Devi by Manil Suri

I was overjoyed to receive my first overseas mail carrying a book for review by Norton publishers. So far, I was aware of this publishing house's name for the critical content it printed on literary classics, and was pleasantly surprised to see Norton publishing contemporary authors with experimental narratives and genres. Taking up with novel with a slightly odd name - "The City of Devi" - was easy, since credibility was established by the very name and packaging of the courier I received. That Manil Suriwas a writer who could churn out an epic with an apocalyptal theme turned out to be a pleasant surprise waiting to be unfurled with the turning of pages of this book.

The City of Devi is an innovative, unique and adventurous novel. It dwells on a love triangle with a twist. There is a woman, and two men. However, contrary to what you might be already thinking, in this book, a woman, Sarita, and a man, Jazz, are both madly in love with a third person, a man -Karun - who is the mysterious, elusive figure in the book. It is Karun, however, who keep the two alternate strands of narrative, that of Sarita and Jazz, find a common ground to develop cohesively from. The rather tumultuous love saga of these three protagonists is set against the backdrop of an apocalypse waiting to happen - a nuclear strike on Mumbai, ready to wipe out the last trace of life from the island. In a classic tale of cross-border communal conflict, humanity is standing vulnerable and on the verge of being sacrificed for what are assumed to be conflicts of supremacy of divine powers. Mumbai only could be saved by its patron Goddess - Mumba Devi, recently resurrected in a Bollywood incarnation - Super Devi - giving more fillip to the blind adoration of gullible multitudes. And amid all this mayhem, two, no three, lovers are eagerly searching for an opportunity to unite with each other, after eliminating the 'other'.

This novel doggedly follows the quest motif - a rather effective one in stories which deal with the pains and ecstasies of love. Love is, it goes without saying, the underlying theme. In addition to it, theme of communalism, humanism, hypocrisy, apocalypse and homosexuality have been adequately dealt with in the book. With sensibility and gusto. Dystopia, towards which the real world too is fast spiralling, is another prominent theme. The novel is rich with explicit content, and for the shy readers out there, I have to mention, Manil Suri does not believe in using innuendoes. A powerful strain of narrative, in fact, is developed around a pomegranate - a perceived aphrodisiac (about the veracity of which claim I have no clue!), and that pomegranate continues to be an inanimate, silent yet pivotal character in the book. Manil Suri also weaves together myths and memories in the story; especially curious is the way he deals with a rare interpretation of the concept of divine trinity.

The City of Devi is a work of passion, and intelligent story telling. It has elements which enthral a reader and keep drawing him deeper and deeper in the fiction which starts assuming dimensions of reality. An intriguing beginning and an out-of-the-box climax add perfection to an already great scripting. A grand cast of characters does not obfuscate a reader, because the main concern - the protagonists - are so well constructed and foregrounded. Witty dialogues and great use of embellished language make the reading experience rich and satisfying. Love and romance always work for the audience; but when supplanted with an element of impending doom, they acquire a texture of passion and urgency - a fact aptly exploited by the author. I could go on writing reams of material on they way this book influenced me, but for now, I will conclude by awarding it, in all humility, 4 stars on five. It is one great adventure to be a part of.

Book Details -
Author - Manil Suri 
Publisher - Norton
Published - 2013
Book Source - Review Copy
Genre - Fiction/Romance/Dystopia
Price - Rs. 499
Pages -  400



  1. I am too tempted to read this for various reasons.. loved the review and thank you for the fair warning about the content !

  2. Whoa!
    That is definitely one nuclear-package...dystopian novels, I have heard of(courtesy the Hunger Games and such) but not in Mumbai which only makes me want to read this even more.
    Loved the review.:)

  3. Saumya KulshreshthaJuly 28, 2013 at 12:48 AM

    Its a much different dystopia - one which strives to get resolved. In other dystopian novels, the entropy usually only increases.

  4. Thanks :)

    And yes, this novel was a delight to read!


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