Title: The City of Devi
Author: Manil Suri
Release Date: February 4, 2013
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co.
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction (South Asian)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
The city of Mumbai is almost unrecognizable. Daily bombings and terrorist attacks plague the almost-empty city. Most people have left because the city is under the threat of a nuclear attack from Pakistan. Those that remain are subject to the roving gangs of Hindus and Muslims that are out for each other’s blood. Caught in this chaos is Sarita, a thirty-three year old statistician who is searching for her husband, Karun. Karun has mysteriously disappeared, and Sarita believes it’s her destiny to be reunited with him. Along with Jaz, a Muslim posing as a Hindu with his own secrets, she searches through the desolate city for her beloved husband.
The City of Devi is set in a post-apocalyptic Mumbai. The thriving city has emptied; the people who have remained are desperate and are subject to the whims of the gangs that now control the city. It seems so far from where the city is today, yet what’s frightening about the book is how realistic it is. The world knows that relations between India and Pakistan are strained. This is a portrayal of what could very well happen if Mumbai became the next Lebanon. Suri’s descriptions and setting are incredibly well written; the reader can taste the sense of fear in the air and smell the decay. It makes for an incredibly absorbing, vivid read.
The relationship between Sarita and Karun is interesting in The City of Devi. Sarita endears herself to the reader immediately, while Karun feels a bit more distant. It’s interesting to watch the relationship between these two unfold in flashbacks. Readers will probably be able to guess the secret behind Karun’s behavior; it’s not supposed to be difficult. The third main character, Jaz, has an amusing, distinct voice. Despite his flighty behavior and selfishness, it’s difficult to dislike him. Suri has crafted three very different flawed and realistic characters in this novel.
One aspect of Indian culture that Suri highlights very well in The City of Devi is superstition. When faced with imminent destruction, everyone from the most educated (Sarita) men and women to the poorest slum dwellers turns to superstition in order to see them through these difficult times. It’s interesting to see how ingrained these traditions and beliefs are in Indian, and specifically Hindu, culture and how quickly people turn to them in times of need.
The plot of The City of Devi is definitely interesting. Readers will wonder about Karun’s disappearance and will be curious how this heightened state of war with Pakistan came about. The flashbacks to Sarita and Karun’s meeting and subsequent marriage is just as interesting as the present day danger. About halfway through the book, the novel takes a strange turn, but if you’re willing to go with it, then you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful, sensual read about our relationships with one another, and how it’s important to value what we have.
One note: There is a lot of sex in this book. A LOT. If you’re easily offended or have delicate sensibilities, you should probably skip The City of Devi. It’s not gratuitous and makes sense with the story and characters, but, again, A LOT OF SEX.