Read by Vikas Adam and Priya Ayyar
Length: 14 Hrs 17 Min
Genre: Literary Post Apocalypse
Quick Thoughts: The City of Devi was never an easy tale for me, I often felt uncomfortable with not just the action but my reaction, yet, it was also a lot of crazy fun. For me, this tale worked on so many levels, creating a sort of beautiful mosaic of apocalyptic themes, strange love, and over the top absurdity.
I always use this opening paragraph of my reviews to talk about something that stood out to me during my experience of an audiobook. Whether it be an issue within the novel, the reason why I decided to read it, or just an idea that percolates within my brain as the tale is being told. With The City of Devi there we a lot of potential topics to discuss. As a post apocalyptic fan, The City of Devi explored many themes that fascinate me, particularly the intermingling of the international economy, reliance of modern technology for information, the importance of the balance of power among nuclear states, and how all these things can be manipulated into causing significant, even apocalyptic damage to a world increasingly balanced on a razor’s edge. I could discuss another of my favorite topics, religion or even tackle the importance of popular culture in propagandizing the masses. All of these are wonderful, fascinating ideas that are beautifully explored in The City of Devi, but I, like most red blooded males, want to talk about the sex. I want to believe I am a mature adult, well into his 30’s who can discuss matters of sexual relationships with a frank honesty. Instead, though, I fall somewhere between socially awkward and a giggling junior higher who just happened to stumble onto a Shannon Tweed movie on late night TV. When listening to an audiobook, there is an intricate relationship formed between listener, narrator and author, and when the audiobook is full of the sexin’, well, that can lead to some strange situations. I tend to listen to my audiobooks while at work, typically alone, but often near others, and when that audiobook talks about a newly married couples tentative sexual explorations, or one cousin donkey slapping another during naked wrestling, I find myself unable to make eye contact with those around me. I know what you think, “Grow Up Bob! Sex is a Natural Part of Life!! Who Hasn’t Donkey Slapped Their Cousin?” Yet, if there is one thing my ultraconservative Baptist upbringing taught me, it’s that listening to any form of Boy on Boy on Girl action in mixed company, well, may lead to awkward situations in which it is best to simply avert your eyes.
The City of Devi tells the tale of one woman’s search to find her husband amidst the chaos of war ravaged Mumbai, on the eve of a potential nuclear strike from Pakistan. As she makes her way through the streets full of religious discord, apocalyptic paranoia and roving gangs, she encounter’s a young Muslim man with a secrets of his own, which may affect her directly. As the two search for her husband, they encounter many colorful and dangerous characters, one of which may be a manifestation of the cities patron goddess, Mumba Devi. The City of Devi is an absurdist romp through apocalyptic Mumbai that explores love, religion, pop culture and war in strange and brilliant new way. Its part Bollywood, part porn mixed into a screwball comedy yet set in a dark, and strikingly realistic near future dystopia. The two main characters, Sarita and Ijaz or “the Jazter” were lovingly explored and intricately developed forcing such a guttural reaction from me that caused me to question aspects of myself. I had such a negative early reaction to Jaz, his predatory nature, his brashness about sex, how it is just as much of a primal need to him as breathing and sustenance. I had to wonder if this reaction was due to some level of homophobia, on my part. Equally, my vision of Sarita as almost a victim, someone who needed to be protected from the likes of Jaz, caused me to wonder if that reaction was due to some misogyny on my part. Despite my personal conflicts with these characters, I found them fascinating. Even more so, I was blown away by the world created by Suri, how economics, religion and politics all contributed to a slow burn apocalypse. This multilayered exploration was so brilliantly done, it was almost scary. Add to this Suri managed to make what seemed to be almost an absurdist idea, the contribution of an over the top action movie about the goddess Devi to the chaos, seem strikingly plausible and even timely. Yet, the core of all this, the essence of the novel is a love story, in fact, a love triangle unlike any one I have experienced before. This was no Hollywood love tale, no easy love at first sight fallacy, but true love involving hard work, sacrifice, betrayal and self deception. The City of Devi was never an easy tale for me, I often felt uncomfortable with not just the action but my reaction, yet, it was also a lot of crazy fun. For me, this tale worked on so many levels, creating a sort of beautiful mosaic of apocalyptic themes, strange love, and over the top absurdity.
I think one of the major reasons this tale worked so well for me was the excellent performances of the two narrators, Priya Ayyar and Vikas Adam. The tale starts off in Sarita’s POV which is handled lovingly by Ayyar. Her narration is rich and beautiful, capturing the flavor of Mumbai, while also deftly showing the chaos and mayhem of a city steeped in desperation. Ayyar captures the frantic pace of the city, and she moves you from situation to situation, and then transitions to the back story of her relationship with her husband with a gentle intensity. Then comes Jaz. The transition is almost a punch in the face, as Vikas Adam takes an almost instantly confrontational tone with the listener. It’s as if he’s saying, “This is who I am. Deal with it.” Adam reads with the vocal equivalent of a sneer, yet as the two characters begins to interact, it softens and changes from outwardly aggressive, to an inner exploration. The interplay between the two narrators truly accentuated the story that Manil Suri seems to be telling. You can feel the reluctant bond form between the two characters. The pacing is sharp and distinct, carrying the listener along from situation to situation with ease, allowing us to fully follow each step on the journey. As with many multi-narrator productions, there is a slight disconnect in the voicing of shared characters, but in some ways that plays into the strength of the tale, showing how point of view affects perception. The City of Devi was a wonderful production of a fascinating novel that made me think almost as much as it made me laugh.
Note: Thanks to Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy for review.