Book Review - The Age of Shiva By Manil Suri
Publisher: W. W. Norton (February 4, 2008)
The Age of Shiva - a 451-page novel of grand proportions, where the characters come alive as Suri breathes life into each one by carefully sketching the details of their lives and personalities. It is amazing that although male, he is strikingly accurate in his description of a woman's wants, needs, desires and love, along with the measure of independence she longs for in a male-dominated world.
Told as a second person narrative in the form of a "love letter" to her son, we are introduced to Meera and follow her journey over several decades starting at age seventeen. The aspects of her life cover marriage, heartbreaks and deaths, but most importantly the birth of her son Ashvin and the events that shape their relationship afterwards. During the years portrayed, we travel back and forth from Rawalpindi to Delhi to Bombay.
The author succeeds in reflecting Meera's complex personality and where it leads her in life to that of India and the time of its birth as a new nation. The metaphors made between Meera's physical and emotional makeup compared to the trials India underwent with the struggles against Pakistan, Hindus against Muslims, and its own inner turmoil regarding the caste system, are done so with remarkable consistency.
It is a riveting story which has the reader on the edge of his/her seat at times, as we see Meera traverse through life, always trying to break free from the various men (father, husband, brother and father-in-law) in her life and their desire to control every aspect of it. Not until the birth of Ashvin do we see her muster up the courage to take charge of her life and his, in a way only the powers of maternal love can accomplish. This also reflects the qualities of the Hindu mythological god for which the story is named - Shiva, with his transformative and destructive powers along with the tale of his consort Parvati and the results of her maternal rapture - vatsalya.
Mostly all of Meera's relationships suffer and at times proves tragic during this time of self-discovery/coming of age. Pushing just about everyone out of her life including her older sister Roopa, who with her head games leaves Meera in mental anguish at every meeting; Dev, whom she fights to have and then battles against for the all encompassing attention and love of their son; her father who strategically tries to maneuver the events in her life; and Aarya, her brother-in-law with his cunning words and lustful eyes and advances.
The friendship she forges with her sister-in-law Sandhya (Aarya's wife) is bittersweet but remains with her even though they end up living miles apart. Meera also maintains a healthy relationship with her mother, younger sister Sharmila, mother-in-law and sister-in-law (Dev's sister) Hema. Zaida proves to be her best friend and confidant in Bombay. All of these characters round out the narrative nicely.
The only element of the story that bothered me, despite knowing it was there for the purpose of one of the fitting analogies the author forms, is the unhealthy love Meera has for Ashvin. Throughout, her feelings are so intense that they do, as Suri intended, "strain against the boundaries between a mother and a son."
Having said that, the entire core of the tale and its outworking kept me captivated until the very end. Unlike author Kiran Desai who was able to finish this compelling novel in just one sitting, it took me two, although had I begun reading earlier in the day, I may have been able to accomplish the same. The pages turned quickly as I devoured each and every detail with regards to locations, traditions and beliefs that I have not come to know firsthand by experience. A subsequent trip to India is on my itinerary, with plans to visit the places that Suri so meticulously outlines in his captivating style, as well as many other inviting vistas of his homeland.
The Age of Shiva is truly a story which shows the complexities and frailties of our existence, making us unique individuals while at the same time uniting us equally as part of the human race.
Author's Blog - http://manilsuri.com/blog/2008/02/the_birth_of_a_book.html
Buy it - http://www.amazon.com/Age-Shiva-Novel-Manil-Suri/dp/0393065693/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1203914219&sr=1-1