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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The City of Devi By Manil Suri: Review

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I first heard about Manil Suri’s The City of Devi when I was reading about an upcoming event on the publishers’ social media page. The premise seemed quite interesting, even though it did not give out too much information.

The book came out but somehow I did not get tempted enough to pick it up then. At a later time I was even part of a live chat session with the author himself. I wanted to know more about the book in terms of what he had written and why and how the thought process came about and all those things. Though it was interesting, I still did not pick up the book.

Recently, while I was reading some already amazing books sent to me for review by Bloomsbury, I was asked by the wonderful Priyanka if I would like to read and review some more books. Of course I am a sucker for good and interesting books so I said yes. This time, there was no escaping that book that I had failed to pick up yet. I asked for it along with a few others, and then began the interesting part.

I have read some very interesting genres of late, and one such genre that I really have enjoyed is the dystopian and apocalyptic one. I have also read a lot of YA books while I am no longer the Y but the A of YA (Young Adult). That said, I still enjoy them a lot and have read quite a few.

When I started reading The City of Devi I realized there was something in this book I hadn’t yet read in any Indian book – it actually had a dystopian setting, though not in the purest form, but that’s even better. Having read so many dystopian and apocalyptic books I was already aware what to expect. 

The settings in books of this genre are always strange and scary, filled with suspense and a thrill where you find yourself wondering along with the characters about what is going on.

And I must say Manil Suri did manage to make me feel the same way, even though I was not expecting any of it. In fact I had started the book with zero expectations.

Before I say more, here is a quick look at what the story is about.

The setting is the city of Mumbai, which is quite different from the city as we know it at present. I wouldn’t say that this is an entirely apocalyptic or dystopian setting, but the events take place in a Mumbai that has been ravaged by war. It is a city where only some have survived, those who are still alive are either scuttling between bunkers and hideouts or trying to salvage the last remnants before the weapons come and burn the remaining parts of the city to ashes. The war is between India and Pakistan but this is not like any war that you would immediately comprehend. The enemy country has announced a date when it will wipe out the city of Mumbai with its weapons. The process has already begun. Only the final date remains when everything will be over.

In the meanwhile, parallel to this war, there has been another war that has been going on internally. This is the war that we Indians have known I think for ever – the religious clash between Hindus and Muslims. The city of Mumbai has been taken over by the Hindu goddess called Devi. Whoever is her follower will be saved, rest shall perish.

But the results are there for all to see, though no one knows how they will be saved or if at all they will be saved. These events however are not very clear at the start, and it takes a few turns of pages to understand this aspect that is happening. Will this story bring about some sense and semblance and peace amongst us all as humans? I wish...but I don't think so...

The story begins with one of the main protagonists, Sarita, trying to find the perfect pomegranate. We soon find that this is for her husband Karun who has suddenly left and she is out on a mission to go and bring him back.

The other protagonist is Jazz, who too is in search of his love, and believes that once he is together with his love, he can fight all odds and everything will be alright.

There is a lot of action going on in the story. And these two parallel love stories connect in a way that keeps you hooked on for more.

What I was worried while reading this story was that while I enjoyed it absolutely, there is a nagging thought that those with the wrong mindset may not really take to it. There is a lot of religious tussle at play here and much can be read in the words. I do wish that we realize this is what all this leads to in the end – an obliteration, a world where everything is almost over.

The plot is brilliant in its uniqueness. Like I said before, I did find traces of dystopian and apocalyptic stories in it but in a completely new way. And it was a pleasant surprise to find it in this sort of a setting. Also the fact that the story is full of twists and turns that leave you waiting for what is about to happen, trying to find out what is going to come now, trying to figure out what may have happened.

It’s a lot of interesting read I must say.

I did read somewhere that this book was given the worst sex in literature award for I think the year 2014 or 2013 by some book award thingie but I don’t remember the name now. Let me just say it was baseless. I don’t see why this story deserves to be in that category at all.

Read it….I read it without knowing anything about it and that was one of the reasons why I didn’t pick it up earlier. I thought it was just another Mumbai city stories that I’ve read so much of already. 

But believe me, this is a very different one, extremely original and witty. And makes you turn the pages one after the other.

Thanks a lot Bloomsbury for sending this to me. I would surely have missed out on a good read. And Manil Suri, I will keep my eyes open for your next!

- Debolina Raja Gupta

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