SERIOUS MEN by Manu Joseph
“Acharyaâ€™s keen twinkling eyes surveyed the boy through a comfortable silence that to him was always a form of conversation. Adi turned nervously towards his father and raised his eyebrows. Archaryaâ€™s eyes then slowly became lost and distant. â€śOf all human deformities, he said softly, ‘genius is the most useful.’ â€ť
Review by Jill I. Shtulman Â (JAN 2, 2011)
Manu Josephâ€™s debut book is seriously good â€“ a wickedly funny, surprisingly warm and stunningly stylish satire that strikes its target over and over again, taking the reader along for a rollicking ride.
The book introduces us to two equally willful men with runaway egos: Arvind Acharya, a bigger-than-life astrophysicist at the prestigious Institute of Theory and Research, a would-be Nobel candidate who is rumored to have been banned from the Vatican for whispering something untoward in the popeâ€™s ear. The other is his personal assistant, Ayyan Mani, a Dalit (or â€śuntouchableâ€ť) who is â€śsmarter than the average bearâ€ť (in this case, the average Dalit) with an IQ of 148.
Ayyan, his wife Oja, and their rather geeky son Adi live in a large gray tenement teeming with humanity, â€śborn into poverty that no human should have to endureâ€ť but Ayyan has his dreams and the wiles to achieve them. He and his half-deaf son play a secret little game: Ayyan feeds Adi some high-level math and physics answers to amaze and astound his teachers. At the same time, he spins flattering stories about his son that he pays a reporter to run. The result: 10-year-old Adi is soon hailed as a boy-genius throughout the communityâ€¦and indeed, the nation.
Meanwhile, his boss Arvind is engrossed in his own quixotic project: an attempt to prove that extraterrestrial life is raining down on Earth through a â€śBalloon Project.â€ť By doing so, he sets himself at odds with underlings, jealous scientists who are far more interested in searching for life in outer space with a â€śGiant Ear.â€ť And to make matters more complicated, an incredibly attractive astrobiologist â€“ the Instituteâ€™s first female scientist â€“ has her cap set for the much-older Arvind and is ready, willing and able to betray him.
Both Ayyan and Arvan are involved in high-stake games: Ayyan is embroiled in the â€śbewitching life of creating a whole mythâ€ť with his son to save himself from â€śthe tired face of Oja, the despondence of Adi, the thousand eyes that gaped vacantly in the grey corridorsâ€¦â€ť At the same time, the egotistical Arvind is aspiring beyond his capabilities with his belief in a souped-up theory.
As these two egos meet â€“ as this â€śodd coupleâ€ť becomes more symbiotic â€“ Manu Joseph weaves an amazingly compelling story. We laugh as Ayann Mani writes his daily â€śquote of the day,â€ť falsified sayings from the likes of Einstein or Newton that tweak the narcissistic Brahmins. Or when Arvind sets himself up against the â€śBig Bangâ€ť theory, which he considers a Western plot because â€śthe Vatican wanted a beginning.â€ť
Yet throughout, Ayyan, Arvan and the others who inhabit the world of Serious Men are not treated merely with humor, but with compassion â€“ from status-crazy youngsters to pushy nuns, from May-December romances to predictable bureaucrats. The result is a pitch-perfect look at two evenly-matched compatriots who define their lives on their own terms and play for the highest stakes. If this is Mr. Josephâ€™s debut, I can only imagine how fabulous his next book will be.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 18 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (August 2, 2010)|
|REVIEWER:||Jill I. Shtulman|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Manu Joseph|
|EXTRAS:||ExcerptHindu Best Fiction Award 2010|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Another satire from the region that we enjoyed:
- Serious Men (August 2010)