23. ilb 06. – 16.09.2023
Portrait Manil Suri
© Hartwig Klappert

Manil Suri

Manil Suri was born in Bombay in 1959. His father worked as assistant music director and his mother was Indira Gandhi’s personal assistant for a year before the latter became Prime Minister. Suri began studying Mathematics at the University of Bombay and in 1983 completed a PhD at the Carnegie Mellon University. He then went on to teach at the University of Maryland, where he has been a full professor since 1994. His research is in applied mathematics with a focus on the numerical analysis of partial differential equations and he is also an editorial member of »SINUM«, a journal on numerical analysis.
Suri began writing short stories not long after graduating. »Both mathematics and writing are alike in regard to their attempt at describing a world which denies all efforts of being rendered as a handy formula.« Alongside his professorship he was a member of several writing groups and took part in different workshops, but for a long time published only one short story, which appeared in the Bulgarian magazine »Orpheus«.
The event which gave rise to his sensational debut novel was a visit to his parents back in India, when a man died who for years had lived on a staircase in his parents’ housing block. »The Death of Vishnu« (2001) started out as a short story but was published as a novel six years later after several residency grants and the insistent encouragement of the Pulitzer prizewinner Michael Cunningham, whose workshop Suri attended. Starting with the death of this man who made a living as a handyman for the community in the block, and whose soul now slowly ascends through the separate storeys, a panorama of the different residents is brought into view: This encompasses two enemy families who share a kitchen unwillingly but where necessary become allies as Hindus against the Muslims on the next floor. The soul passes the head of the Muslim family who has turned to religious questions, reaches the reclusive widower above, and, finally, the intimate roof meetings of two of the building’s teenagers who fashion their love after scenes in Bollywood films. This ironic and sensitively portrayed microcosm offers a simultaneous portrait of the complexity of Indian society and can also be read as a metaphor for the Hindu stages of existence. Combining light freshness with philosophical depth, Suri merges reality and dream, everyday life and myth.
Even before the English edition appeared, the novel was being translated into foreign languages – by now it has appeared in 25 translated versions. It was nominated for the Booker Prize, and was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the LA Times Book Award and the WH Smith Book Award. It won the 2001 Rolf Heyne Buchpreis (Germany), and the 2002 Barnes and Noble Discover Prize (US), among others. Suri plans to expand it into a trilogy, whose next volumes will be entitled »The Age of Shiva« and »The Birth of Brahma«. The author lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

© internationales literaturfestival berlin


Vishnus Tod
München, 2002
[Ü: Anette Grube]