In some ways, The City of Devi is so perfectly on-trend you’ll roll your eyes. It’s the story of a dystopian future, and of a woman called Sarita who just wants to find her husband. There’s even a love triangle! And a superhero movie for everyone to be obsessed with! But in other ways, The City of Devi is like nothing I’ve read before.
Pakistan (or some third party claiming to be as Pakistan) has vowed to drop a nuclear bomb on Mumbai / Bombay (the book’s agnostic as to which name it prefers) on a particular day, and the city is emptying of citizens. Those who remind behind are in perpetual danger from gangs of religious extremists, both Hindu and Muslim, slaughtering anyone they come across from the other faith. Statistician Sarita, hunting for her husband Karun, struggles to find safety in a world gone mad, while also looking back on her courtship with Karun. Soon she joins forces with a Muslim named Jaz, who is looking for Karun for reasons of his own.
(Sex reasons. Spoiler! But, okay, it’s pretty obvious pretty quickly, the reason Karun doesn’t want to have sex with Sarita. You and I were not born yesterday. We are men of the world.)
Though Suri’s conflict-torn India is extreme, it’s also hideously plausible (particularly if you recently read a book about Partition and then a book about the Indian subcontinent after Partition, AS I DID). And Suri describes his horrors matter-of-factly, neither eliding the evil that lurks in the hearts of men nor lingering voyeuristically on the details. It helps that the main characters have a driving quest (find Karun!) to which everything else is incidental — we can’t linger too long with any one group, because Sarita and Jaz have to move on, following clues to their beloved scientist.
The book alternates between Sarita’s perspective and Jaz’s, with Karun a slight cipher between them. Jaz is vivid and engaging, utterly frank about what he wants and how he will pursue it, and if Sarita’s a little more circumspect, she’s still clear in her goals and desires. The book’s weakness is failing to make Karun seem worth any of this. I wanted Jaz and Sarita to find him because that’s what they wanted, but I also kept thinking, You could both do better.
This would have been an excellent read for Aarti’s A More Diverse Universe event, so bookmark it for next year! Or read it before then — there’s never a wrong time for a novel of apocalyptic India!
Thanksgiving’s this week, so I’ll be away from the lovely internets for a few days partying with my kinfolk. If you’re in America, happy happy Thanksgiving, and I hope you do not have to travel far or argue with crazy relatives this holiday! If not, have a wonderful late-November week, and I’ll see you on the other side.