If you knew when the world would end, how would you spend your last few days? In Manil Suri’s latest novel, “The City of Devi,” the citizens of Mumbai have fled under threat of nuclear attack and warring gangs of Muslims and Hindus. Despite the danger, Sarita and Jaz have each stayed behind, facing considerable obstacles, to search for someone they love.
While “The City of Devi” sounds like a serious, apocalyptic tale, it’s more of a Bollywood thriller. (All that’s missing are the musical numbers.) There are raucous train rides, elephants, exploding fake buffalos, and lots of sex — a la Dan Savage.
Religion, specifically the trinity (or the Trimurti, as it’s referred to in Hindu) provides the structure for the text. Suri does a wonderful job providing just enough background on Hinduism: “One of the three (gods) usually predominates in a person’s personality … The universe needs the union of all three. When Shiva, Vishnu and Devi find each other, when they all coalesce as one, then and only then is the circuit of the universe complete, its true power unleashed.”
The same is true with “The City of Devi”: When the three members of this book’s trinity come together (Sarita, Jaz, and the character they were searching for) the true power and heart of this novel is revealed.
With such adventurous and enjoyable characters, Suri’s long, speculative sections about the war were a bit disjointed. Additionally, some plot points, such as the introduction of Devi Ma, the goddess herself, seem rushed.
But Suri brings it all together in the end, with a heartbreaking but fitting conclusion. In their final days before the bomb hits, Suri’s characters each finds a way to be true to themselves, something we can all strive for — whether the world is about to end or not.