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The Death of Vishnu

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  6,690 ratings  ·  440 reviews
Vishnu, the odd-job man in a Bombay apartment block, lies dying on the staircase landing. Around him the lives of the apartment dwellers unfold: the warring housewives on the first floor, lovesick teenagers on the second, and the quietly grieving widower on the top floor of the building. In a fevered state Vishnu looks back on his love affair with the seductive Padmini and ...more
Paperback, 301 pages
Published January 8th 2008 by Harper Perennial (first published 2001)
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Garima

Vishnu Dies!

And nothing interesting happens. Familiarity breeds contempt or in my case, it bred indifference. The Death of Vishnu is a likable novel and a decent debut effort on part of Manil Suri but the story has nothing exceptional to offer to the readers especially if one has read at least one book (ok! Make that two) which mentions ‘Bombay’ in its blurb.

An apartment building with residents who share very little in common except one thing – they all are aware about a man who is dying on the
...more
Deepa
Well - I read this book a few years ago, front to back, without really reading the blurb about the author. Loved the book, and when I finally read the blog....to my surprise, I saw that it was DR.SURI!!! Dr. Suri was my Calculus 2 Professor in college, no joke. He teaches math at University of Maryland Baltimore County, where I went. His class was totally hard, and my friends and I had to fight to stay on top of things.
But, I must say, his book was excellent. After I found out he was the author,
...more
Corinne
an absurd indian soap opera...I was more enthralled by the writing-- which was witty and interesting and at times beautiful prose-- than the plot. But the book was funny and sad and thought-provoking at the same time. I'm glad I read it. I think had Suri developed his characters more fully (and perhaps made fewer of them the center of attention for so long) I would have been more engaged. Instead, we are supposed to care about the lives of 8+ people in 250 pages. Too much. I wouldn't necessarily ...more
Isa
While it has been several years since I read this, what I remember was its rawness, the honesty and beauty in its descriptions of lives in poverty, and the dreams and peeves of her female characters - their neighbors, potential or actual husbands, johns. I loved its rawness and its honesty for contributing to a feeling of emotional understanding for a place I have never been. The characters were more symbols than people sometimes, but I didn't get bored with them because the language kept them b ...more
Lester
An impulse buy, but one which I am glad I have tried. This is a fascinating tale of a group of neighbours in a Bombay (sorry, Mumbai) building. It is a tale of bickering wives, demurring husbands, kitty parties, irani tea houses, paanwallas and cigarettewallas, and everything one needs to understand life at the bottom of the middle class in an Indian city.



The lives of the residents intertwine and range from comic (2 wives sharing one kitchen is bound to lead to bickering) to tragic (the undercu
...more
Laura Broder
I didn't love it. I wanted to love it: I'd heard such good things about it (this was an NPR find). And with my recent trip to India it was so relevant. They talked about places I'd seen! But alas, the story didn't hold me.

The author tries to weave an intricate web of the lives of those who live in an apartment building where a man lays dying on the stairwell. Each chapter contains vignettes into each of their lives, as well as into the subconscious of the dying Vishnu. The story does provide an
...more
Shelley
What an interesting book! I was just amazed at how EVERYONE in the apartment building was so wrapped up in their own issues and lives that they failed to acknowledge the fact that a man lay dying on the landing downstairs. On and on they fight and worry and carry on about who is using the most water in the shared kitchen and who is running off with who and their everyday lives. Poor Vishnu lays dying and no ones cares. Not one of them really wants to extend themselves past their own comfort zone ...more
Marika
This was a really nice, intimate book. It's a "day in the life" format. You bounce around from apartment to apartment and family to family over the course of about 48 hours. It has all the usual tragedy and pettiness that seems to be a hallmark of everything Indian I have ever read. And, as also seems typical, this is offset with some bright spot, some chance at enlightenment or redemption, or someone just being true to himself.

I kept comparing this reading to the challenge of readng Midnight's
...more
Kerri
Apr 09, 2008 Kerri rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jane Austen fans looking for a new era and geography
Shelves: fiction, book-club
A blur of memories, times past, and dreams of Vishnu, an alcoholic who "lives" on the steps of a Mumbai apartment, and of all the residents of the building who are affected by his death.

In the beginning, the characters seem more like caricatures-- typical "bourgeoisie" with petty concerns and trivial quibbles. It could just as easily be one of those lighthearted American or British novels from the early 20th century. As the novel progresses, though, we get deeper insight into some of the charact
...more
Mark

I enjoyed this so much I'm tempted to run out and get the second part of the planned trilogy, "The Age of Shiva," right away, but it would have to go to the far end of the taxi runway.

This novel, set in Bombay, centers on the life of the title character, a poor man eking out a living by running errands for the residents of an apartment building, where he lives on one of the landings. (He's not the only one. Another landing is occupied by "Radiowallah," a man whose life dream was to buy a transis
...more
Julie
There is much to admire about this novel- the writing is lyrical but clean, the characters lovable, human, flawed, maddening, the construction of the book flows like a spiral staircase- leaving you slightly dizzy but thrilled.

What keeps me from loving this book are these very elements: there are so many characters and plotlines that I was left wanting. Vishnu's slow death that was entwined with Hindu mythology was lost on me. I didn't have a sense of place, of Bombay. I felt that the women in t
...more
Nicole
Oct 12, 2008 Nicole rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nicole by: Elizabeth
I was a pretty good book, however, I sometimes got the present confused with flash backs and imagination. It took me a while to get into it, and I thought the ending was unsatifying. You meet all these characters, then you do not find out what happens to them.
Mitch
Actually, I'd classify this just as fiction more than as literary fiction.

What's good here is the 'Indian-ness' of the storyline and characters.

The story is a window into the intertwined lives of a three-story apartment building in Mumbai, and the thread that somewhat ties them together is the death process of a man who has the paid-for right to live on their stair landing and run errands for them. (This is based on a real-life situation from the author's past.)

What's interesting is that the au
...more
Joy
If pressed to say whether I liked this book, I would have to pause. Many of the characters are, as one reviewer put it, "perfectly awful." But in this exploration of faith, love, and grace, that's exactly Suri's point. The multi-story apartment building on whose steps Vishnu lies dying seems to be a Hindu version of Dante's 9 rings of Hell (or probably Purgatory). At the street level are the paanwalla and other vendors who are totally given to temper and appetite. The first floor dwellers aren't ...more
Rain
The death of Vishnu without Vishnu would have made a much better novel in my opinion.

My beefs as related to Vishnu: The magical realism was lacking the finesse of, say, Allende and went on (and on)interminably; some of the sex scenes seemed gratuitous and bordering on violent (without acknowledging it as such); I wondered how exactly Vishnu managed to acquire the funds necessary to wine and dine his lady friend considering that he was an alcoholic landing-dweller?

The goings-on in the apartment
...more
Aashish
A simple story about society and class in India, neatly written and very easy to follow. It reads like a soap opera at times, but the underlying stories are very real and believable. Its a very quick read.

In Hindu mythology, Vishnu is the "preserver", although this book is not about Hindu mythology at all. The author, Manil Suri, has suggested that it is the first of a trilogy of books and that the forthcoming novels might be titled "Life of Shiva" (the destroyer) and Birth of Brahma (the creato
...more
Ted
I enjoyed the book, but then I enjoy almost anything I read ... however, I'm making space for other books on my (real) bookshelves today, and this one is going ... particularly since I find that most of my friends were not more impressed than I was with the book. At this time I remember very little of the story, and don't have a burning desire to spend time re-reading it just to find out. Sorry, Mr. Suri - but I did buy the book, so you can't complain too much, right?
Brigdh
A novel set in an apartment building in Bombay. Vishnu, a homeless man who sleeps on the staircase in exchange for running errands for the tenants, is ill/dying/already dead – no one is willing to take the time out of their own interpersonal dramas to check. Various petty life crises occur during the two days the book covers - someone's daughter dates an inappropriate boy, a man mourns his long-dead wife, two families argue over the use of shared kitchen, a skeptical man tries to devote himself ...more
Fritz Graham
In all honesty, I was really looking forward to reading this book. Once i finished it, I felt a little unfulfilled. Maybe my lack of understanding about Hindu mythology contributes to my lack of satisfaction. Maybe the story's disjointed nature makes me feel less intelligent than i normally like feeling (if i'm gonna feel stupid about something, let it at least be something as complex as, coincidentally enough, Calculus 2, which to this day is the one math class at college that i did not finish ...more
Sundarraj Kaushik
The whole book revolves around the happenings in a building in South Bombay. The book describes the daily life of the various tenants (all of whom seem to be retired and content to stay at home) in this building. All this is weaved around the death of a person named Vishnu who has been sleeping in one of the landings in the three storey building.
As Vishnu lies dying the tenants of the different apartments are in their own world, the wives who have to share a kitchen bickering among themselves, t
...more
Marion
I loved this book! The story circles around the man, Vishnu, who is essentially a squatter living on the porch of a small apartment house which houses 2 Hindu families and one Muslim family. Each family has had interaction with Vishnu over the years either hiring him as a servant or offering him charity and now he lays dying on the porch. What will these families do in response to this situation?

There is humor, there is Hindu mythology, there is Indian history that reflects on the legacy of one
...more
Will Byrnes
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Anittah
Could not finish. Found characters loathsome, cartoonish, or both. Suspect accolades were a function of late 90s PC/ethnic trendiness among the liberal arts / Trader Joes set. Was unsurprised to find that the author is actually a math professor, given that his characters "exclaim" and "declare" rather than simply say what they need to say (which is usually predictable).

FWIW I did however have a craving for samosas when reading this. Maybe trader joes sells? ;) I no longer have easy access to the
...more
Manish
The buzz and the acclaim that this book has garnered over the years raised my expectations but for me, this one was a disappointment. Vishnu is an alcoholic and a homeless chap who survives doing odd jobs for the residents of a building in Bombay. This in turn earns him the right to apportion a part of the staircase of the building for him to 'live'. Each chapter explores the lives of the other residents of the building and this analysis attempts to be a microcosm of the change sweeping through ...more
Roxanne Russell
Set in an apartment house in Bombay (Mumbai), this book introduced new realities to me about modern life in India. Namely, that people could live in stairwells and depend on errands or generosity as their livelihood. This novel culminates in a Hindu-Muslim conflict between neighbors- building to this conflict through attention to character development of the apartment house's inhabitants. The central "problem" is the dying man in their stairwell. I thoroughly enjoyed this story because of the ri ...more
Emily Iliani
It was a long draggy read and at some point I was simply reading for the sake of reading.

Would't go so far to say a waste of my time but it was not great. What did death of Vishnu manage to reveal is simply the complexity of a neighborhood and its superbely mundane daily life; of which I am sure I could absorb without spending time on a book such as this.

However, that all being said, I must say, if literature were indeed meant to reveal innermost complexity of humanrace, somehow this novel man
...more
Nancy
I started this a week ago for a reading group that meets next week. I actually like it better than the 3 stars indicates. The book is about a small apartment building in Mumbai. Vishnu is a very poor man who lives on one of the landings of the building and runs errands for the residents. He is dying and has not moved from his landing. The book alternates his visions (hallucinations?) and memories as he is dying with vignettes about the residents - the petty quarrels between the 2 housewives who ...more
Sean B
I cannot remember the last book I read in which I smiled and laughed so much. I thought the author did an excellent job of creating each character; you get a very good sense of each person in the story. Suri descibes the scenes so well that you can easily picture what is taking place in the building.

It is an interesting glimpse into life in Mumbai. While providing plenty of humor, it also is a good critique of human nature and social issues in India (as well as some issues that are global in sco
...more
Andrew
My reason for reading this book is pretty random, pretty much as random as the book itself!
I bought this book second hand from a charity stall, I bought it because I wanted to sit in the sun by a lake and read, and had neglected to bring a book with me.
The first few pages zip by. We are slowly introduced to some characters, and the interaction between the is terrific - genuinely funny. But as the story progresses and we move to other characters, they are less interesting. We are told of each o
...more
Lynda Pringle
This book was written by a mathematician which is obvious due to the punctilious and often pointless description which encapsulated much of the novel. To the author's benefit, this is his first novel and there may be improvement in his subsequent books.

The novel centers around a forgotten, dying errand man named Vishnu who lives in the landing of an Indian apartment building in Bombay. The residents cannot decide whether or not he is dead and spend wasteful hours arguing about who will pay for t
...more
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Manil Suri is an Indian-American mathematician and writer, most notable for his first novel, The Death of Vishnu.

He attended the University of Bombay before moving to the United States, where he attended Carnegie Mellon University. He received a PHD in mathematics in 1983, and became a mathematics professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

He still continues to hold this job even th
...more
More about Manil Suri...
The Age of Shiva The City of Devi: A Novel Mother India

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“What did religion do to people, to provoke such obstinancy, such hysteria - how did it push people to the stage of torturing themselves and killing each other? ” 8 likes
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