What to Read After... Mr Gum 19/08/19
The City of Devi
Manil Suri's new novel, The City of Devi, is a weird postmodern dystopia, a thriller and a love story. In the near future, the world has been paralysed by terrorist attacks and internet shutdowns; a Bollywood movie has provoked massive intercommunal violence across India; inevitably, Pakistan has invaded. The war has reached a stalemate, and everyone expects a nuclear attack. Now two lost young people roam the deserted streets of a Mumbai which has been evacuated in anticipation of nuclear catastrophe and whose remaining occupants are divided into warring Hindu and Muslim ghettoes.
Sarita - Hindu, unworldly, armed with only a pomegranate - is looking for her husband, who has mysteriously disappeared. Jaz - Muslim, flamboyantly gay, clutching a gun he doesn't know how to use - is also looking for a lost love. Together, they have to cross a city patrolled by sectarian thugs and strafed by unidentified warplanes, where lonely aquarium attendants eat their own rare fish, decadent nightclubs rise out of the ruins of Bollywood studios, the sea is rising to reclaim the land, and everyone expects the miraculous appearance of Mumba Devi, protectress of the city. It's a brilliantly-realised nightmare in full Ballardian technicolour; as brutal as it's funny, and a satire on Indian politics and culture whose viciousness is always tempered by human concern and a sense of the ridiculous. Manil Suri is a comedian-prophet who can also make your heart ache, and The City of Devi is his best book yet.