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  1. Book ImageThe City of Devi: A Novel

    Manil Suri

    From the author of The Death of Vishnu, "a big, pyrotechnic…ambitious…ingenious" (Wall Street Journal) novel.

A Note from the Author

What would happen if the world around us drastically changed, if the comfort of an assured future vanished and we saw the possibility of Armageddon heading our way? What would remain important to us in such an altered universe, where wealth and long-term goals ceased to matter and everything nonessential was stripped away? I’ve always been fascinated by this scenario: what would keep us going?—what hope, what aspiration would be strong enough to pull us from day to day?

The only answer that makes sense is love—blinding, compelling love, the kind that demands to be fulfilled, even if it is the last goal we ever attain. To what lengths would we go to be united with the one we love; what battles would we wage, what dangers would we be willing to face?

Sarita, my heroine, embarks on just such a journey to find her missing husband. Once I cast her, though, I quickly realized I needed another ingredient to subvert any expectations the reader (and the writer!) might have. Something to blast us all out of our comfort zones, to make this novel completely different from the ones I’d written before. Thus was Jaz born—Jaz of the snarky aphorisms, Jaz of the irrepressible optimism, who lives for physical pleasure and roves around every city looking for hidden adventure—truly an author’s dream character. With him aboard, nothing was off-limits anymore—together, we barreled through the ravaged streets of Mumbai, having a rip-roaring time, taking potshots at every sacrosanct target. The novel acquired an exuberance, a freedom, a roller-coaster feel I never could have imagined—guns, quarks, elephants, even a Bollywood incarnation of the mother goddess Devi materialized in its pages. In taking some of these elements over the top, I was also able to slip in a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the expectation of “exoticism” in Indian fiction.

While this put an entertaining spin to the end of the world, how to make such a scenario believable? For this, my inspiration came from the near–nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan in May 2002. I was in Mumbai at the time, and was amazed by how unconcerned everyone was—life went on completely normally even as various foreign embassies were ordering their personnel to evacuate. It is this sense of the surreal that I observed, the absurd, that I have tried to bring out in this novel. Perhaps this is the flip side of how we cope with the unthinkable—concentrate on the here and now, cling to the quotidian. Go to the market, as Sarita does in the first scene, and haggle for pomegranates.

Discussion Questions

  1. The City of Devi has three major characters. Hinduism has three central deities. Sarita ends up with a different kind of family of three than she once imagined. Describe the role that trinities play in the novel.
  2. The novel is narrated by Sarita and Jaz. How would our experience of the novel be different if Karun were a narrator as well?
  3. Compare and contrast the two romantic relationships in the novel.
  4. The City of Devi is set in the future, but in some ways it eerily resembles the present: nuclear war is a familiar threat and Superdevi is described as a combination of contemporary hit movies Superman and Slumdog Millionaire. Describe the ways in which the author uses this future world to reveal something to us about our present one.
  5. The Devi ma who appears to save her city is both a religious figure and a figure from popular culture. What draws the citizens of Mumbai toward her? Describe the role that religion, mythology, and pop culture play in the city as it teeters on the brink of destruction.
  6. How does each of the three major characters experience physical intimacy? How does each character’s relationship with love and sex transform over the course of the novel?
  7. From the dead fish at the aquarium to the girl transformed into Devi ma, The City of Devi is full of striking, surreal, and darkly funny scenes and images. What other images from the novel will stay with you?
  8. Sarita is a statistician. Karun is a physicist. How would you characterize the role that math and science play in both characters’ minds, in apocalyptic Mumbai, and in the novel overall?
  9. Both Sarita and Jaz are forced to disguise their identities at various points throughout the novel. The Devi ma who appears in the city is also in disguise. In a less literal way, Karun, too, has to hide who he really is. Describe the ways in which characters assume false identities. What is the significance of the theme of disguise in the novel?
  10. In the end, all three major characters understand love and family in a new way. Were you surprised by the ending of the novel? Did the ending expand your understanding of what love and family can mean?

About Manil Suri

Manil Suri is the best-selling author of The Death of Vishnu, a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, and The Age of Shiva. A native of Mumbai, he is a professor of mathematics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Books by Manil Suri

  1. Book CoverThe Age of Shiva: A Novel

    "A stunning novel, proof that Manil Suri is a major storyteller of heart and intelligence." —Amy TanMore

  2. Book CoverThe City of Devi: A Novel

    From the author of The Death of Vishnu, "a big, pyrotechnic…ambitious…ingenious" (Wall Street Journal) novel.More

  3. Book CoverThe Death of Vishnu: A Novel

    “Enchanting. . . . Suri’s novel achieves an eerie and memorable transcendence.”—TimeMore