A complex parable of unification and division, based on the myth of the god Shiva and his consort Parvati, is subtly constructed in this ambitious successor to Suri’s fine first novel, The Death of Vishnu (2001).
Suri tells the story of a woman’s life in modern India after independence from Great Britain. She is Meera Sawhney, who grows up in a well-to-do family dominated by her imperious father (who owns a prosperous publishing company), and finds her liberation in marriage to handsome, self-indulgent pop singer Dev Arora. But Meera’s freedom is no more stable than that of her country, which she, and we, experience in the wake of partition from Pakistan, through food riots and continuing outbreaks of Hindu vs. Muslim violence, the embattled careers of Mohandas Gandhi and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (who becomes India’s political leader, following the path trod by her father Jawaharlal Nehru)—into the early 1980s, with the shadow of ongoing conflict and anarchy expanding. Meera’s identification with India is predictable, but the novel gains impressive force from its searching characterizations: of ever hopeful, continually underachieving Dev; his brother Arya, an intolerant Hindu extremist whose hatred of Muslims is no less inflammatory than are his sexual attentions to Meera; her demanding father (“Paji”), neither as loving nor as much a liberal intellectual as he pretends and yearns to be; and the sisterhood of friends and family who share Meera’s struggles, bond with her and complicate her marriage and motherhood. But the story’s core is Meera’s smothering, heated, virtually erotic love for her only child, Ashvin, the beloved son whose name evokes those of the deities Shiva and Vishnu, and whose need for her embraces provokes Meera to envision a “parallel universe.” In it, rather than be bound by protective constraints of family relationship, they will be free to “be one.” Like India’s dream of unity, this cannot be, and Meera pays the price for her overreaching.
A finely conceived, absorbing and powerful book.