Manil Suri is a math professor at the University of Maryland (Baltimore County) and a charming person; Paulette and I met him at a party in a local writer's home last year. His first novel, The Death of Vishnu, is an extraordinary glimpse into the lives of several families in a Mumbai (Bombay) apartment house, as they swirl over and around Vishnu, a man who lives on one of the stairway landings and who is peacefully dying there. Two samples of Suri's vivid prose, first from a dream that Vishnu experiences near the end of Chapter Six:
Vishnu inhales, and the air is sweet with lotus. He thinks his senses are deceiving him, and inhales again. The scent is overpowering, as if thousands of flowers have opened, as if the steps, the walls, the ceiling, are all awash with blossoms. Mixed in with their sweetness is the spiciness of basil, barely detectable at first, but becoming more intense by the second, until that is all he smells, and he thinks that a million tulsi leaves are being rubbed between invisible fingers. And then come wafts of mango, waves that begin to wash over the tulsi, each swelling stronger than the one before, and redolent of all the different varieties that he knows. Vishnu recognizes the wildness of Gola mangoes, the tartness of Langda, the cloying sweetness of Pyree, the perfect refinement of Alphonso. The perfume is so thick and potent that he can feel it press against his face. Except that now it is the earth his nostrils are pressed against, earth that is wet and aromatic, earth that smells sweet and loamy, with the pungency of dung mixed in. Vishnu inhales the new fragrance. It is the scent of the land, the scent of fertility, the scent that has existed since civilization began, and Vishnu marvels at its immutability.
And in Chapter Nine, as Mr. Taneja upstairs remembers his late wife Sheetal via the soundtrack of a movie that they had shared long ago:
The record had been a journal that had charted his recovery after Sheetal. Day after day, year after year, he had taken his emotional pulse as he had listened to it. In the beginning, there had been no pulse. He had performed each task dutifully: cranking the handle, placing the record on the turntable, setting the needle down, receiving the notes transmitted. But these had not added up to the experience of listening to the song. It had been some weeks before he had actually sensed the music, and even more time before he had heard the lyrics. Then, one day, it had happened – suddenly, he could see Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari on the CinemaScope screen, feel Sheetal's hand resting under his own in the cool darkness of the movie theater. That's when he had begun to cry, his tears so big and splashy that he had shut the gramophone lid, afraid of getting them over the record. For months, he had been able to listen to only part of the song before breaking down.
Exotic imagery, eddying like a monsoon wind throughout the novel ...