three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
34-May-June-2008
By: 
Manil Suri
user_rating: 
0

A-The Age of ShivaIn 1955 Delhi, 17-year-old Meera, from a well-to-do Hindu family, falls for Dev, a handsome, aspiring singer. After being discovered in a compromising position, they marry, despite opposition from Meera’s progressive and manipulative father, Paji. When Meera enters Dev’s household, she starts to accept his family’s lower status and religious orthodoxy—as well as her mistake in her choice of husband. Meera and Dev accept Paji’s offer to help them move to Bombay (renamed Mumbai in 1995), but happiness remains elusive. Even after the birth their son, the sole bright spot in her life, Meera realizes that in order to obtain true happiness, she must navigate between the traditional and the modern and wrest control of her life.
Norton. 448 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0393065693

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram 4 of 5 Stars
"Amid the current wave of Indian novelists, Suri stands out for his tendency to minimize the exotic aspects of South Asian life. … In the book’s final chapters, Suri reveals that his broader interest is in how family shapes one’s obsessions." Aman Batheja

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Meera’s story is filled with examples of the way she and other women are held down, and Suri manages to convey Meera’s frustration and anger in a voice that rarely falters. … That he has constructed another fascinating and frustrating portrait of Indian society, however, is his novel’s greater success." Vikas Turakhia

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Panoramic yet personal, epic yet intimate, The Age of Shiva is a rich read, full of the sights and sounds of tumultuous political years in India during the country’s struggle for independence." Holly Johnson

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Age of Shiva is painted in broad, colorful strokes that sometimes evoke the melodramatic movies so beloved in India. … The novel would have been richer if Suri had infused it more deeply with the world-shaping changes that surround his heroine." Caryn James

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Many of Suri’s literary trademarks are in evidence here: a wealth of detail, luminosity of prose, vivid portrayals of mundane human interactions. … At 455 pages, it is overly long and slow to unfold." Bharti Kirchner

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"Not only does the narrative move slowly, sometimes it grinds to a halt. Suri will linger far too long over a scene, describing with guide-book precision a sports competition, a Hindu wedding ceremony or religious ritual, an erotic encounter. His descriptions often go beyond local color to dogged, anthropological exactitude." Michael Dirda

Critical Summary

Manil Suri’s debut novel, The Death of Vishnu (PEN/Faulkner Award nominee, 2002), satirized families in a single apartment building in Bombay. The Age of Shiva, about women’s subjugation, postindependence Indian politics, and Hindu-Muslim conflicts, offers a more panoramic view of Indian society. A few critics compared it to Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, but The Age of Shiva is a smaller, tighter work, ambitious in scope if not as wholly successful. Written as a letter from Meera to her son, the novel shines with luminous prose, Hindu myths, and mother-child bonds, but bogs down as it chronicles the decades. Most critics agreed, however, that Suri effectively portrays Meera as the embodiment of an India caught between tradition and modernization.