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Originally published Friday, February 22, 2013 at 5:02 AM

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‘The City of Devi’: searching for a loved one in post-apocalyptic Mumbai

In “The City of Devi,” novelist Manil Suri traces several Mumbai residents in search of their destiny, as the city is devastated by one nuclear terrorist attack and threatened by another. Suri reads Tuesday, Feb. 26, at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Manil Suri

The author of “The City of Devi” will appear at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave., Seattle; free (206-624-6600 or www.elliottbaybook.com).

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In his latest offering, Manil Suri (“The Age of Shiva”) weaves together elements of fantasy and mythology into an absorbing story of love. “The City of Devi” (W.W. Norton, 352 pp., $26.95) is set in a post-apocalyptic Mumbai, which has been devastated by a terrorist attack from Pakistan.

Rumors of another bombing are rampant. Businesses are shut, the communication system is inoperable and the food supply is dwindling. Gangs of Hindus and Muslims lurk everywhere, ready to annihilate anyone of a different faith.

Undaunted, Sarita, a 33-year-old statistician, ventures out into the street, looking for her husband, Karun, a physicist, who has mysteriously disappeared. Very much in love with him, Sarita longs to have a child. By chance she encounters Jaz, a Muslim man who recognizes her as Karun’s wife and offers to tag along, since they’re heading in the same direction. Sarita has no
inkling that Jaz is her husband’s gay lover, who wants to reunite with Karun for his own sake, and that Karun has carefully concealed his sexual preference from her since the beginning of their relationship.

Sleek, cocky and born of respected academics, Jaz manipulates his way through life, lying to his parents, cheating on his lovers and somehow managing to get his own way. Much to his surprise, he finds himself yearning only for Karun, whom he calls the “central riddle” of his life.

Both Jaz and Sarita are heartened when they receive a clue. Karun has possibly been kidnapped and is being held in a hotel. En route to the hotel, the duo meets with a procession of people who are rushing to get a sighting of the goddess, Mumba Devi. Residents of Mumbai have always believed that their patron goddess will incarnate in time to protect her city and its people. Sarita and Jaz join the marchers to pay respects to the goddess, only to find themselves swept up in a vortex of trouble.

Can the two lovelorn protagonists be saved by the goddess? Will they ever find Karun? Will their respective amorous dreams be fulfilled? These questions haunt the remaining pages.

At the beginning of this well-crafted novel, Sarita’s character predominates. However, her motivations for wanting to stay with Karun despite the fact that their marriage hasn’t been consummated stretch credibility. And there’s little else about her to hold the reader’s interest. Thus she soon fades into the background. On the other hand, Jaz, once introduced, effortlessly takes control and the sections devoted to him are among the most eloquent.

Suri’s prose is reason enough to pick up the book, but what ultimately makes the reader turn the pages is the intertwined destinies of the three characters. In the end, love is all that matters, Suri seems to be saying.

Bharti Kirchner’s latest novel is “Tulip Season: A Mitra Basu Mystery.”

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