The Age of Shiva
Manil Suri
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Buy *The Age of Shiva* by Manil Suri online

The Age of Shiva
Manil Suri
W.W. Norton
448 pages
February 2008
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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“To be a parent is to be guilty.”
In his stunning novel, Suri focuses on the life of a young woman trapped in an unhappy marriage, the background for the dramatic story beginning with the Partition of India through the ensuing years of upheaval, war with neighboring Pakistan a constant threat.

Although Dev is clearly enamored of her sister, Roopa, Meera salvages the broken love affair when Roopa marries another, hoping that the handsome young man will find in her all that he desires. Dev has spent his life in preparation for the success of his dreams, hoping for a career as a background singer in the movies.

Leaving a comfortable home with a domineering father and religiously devout, albeit uneducated, mother, Meera becomes another member of her new family’s crowded household. Longing to escape the claustrophobic and intrusive confines of Dev’s parents’ home, where her religious in-laws perform the sacred Hindu rituals that Meera’s father so disdains, the newlywed submits to pressure, making a fateful decision that alters her life and poisons her marriage.

With her father’s help, the couple moves to Bombay, where Dev is finally forced to face the futility of his quest for fame and fortune, escaping into drink to salve his battered ego. Meera endures, not happily, until the birth of their son, Ashvin, who becomes the focus of her world and the repository of her longing for unconditional love: “For once I would matter the most in someone’s life.”

Recurring wars with Pakistan interrupt the family’s oppressive days in Bombay, yet there is more destruction inside the home than in a country writhing in revolution, from Nehru to Indira Ghandi. While Meera’s subtle revolution against her circumstances mirrors the evolution of her country, the changes are far more profound in the intimacy of a broken marriage and the mother-son bond that delivers Meera from despair.

Unexpectedly, the past intrudes upon Meera’s fragile happiness, devotion to her son shadowed by a former irrevocable decision. The tension between Meera and Dev is palpable, their tiny son responding to them, a bridge between parents who have lost their way.

Through domestic disharmony and war, Meera charts a difficult path through motherhood, seeking a balance along the edge of motherhood that leads to a nearly tragic denouement. The son who saves Meera from despair offers her the most difficult challenges: Meera’s dearth of affection from elsewhere presents unique problems that loom larger as the boy grows from childhood to adolescence. That her desperation leads this mother to shameful manipulation is the sad result of an unfulfilling marriage, natural affection twisted by crippling fear.

But Suri escapes the easy resolution of conflict, plunging Meera into far darker and more disturbing depths, Ashvin the repository of her dreams. The son who inhabits her every waking moment becomes the object, the measure of her worth, a mother trapped by dangerous emotions that threaten the relationship. Here she hovers on the edge of the precipice, paralyzed by indecision, facing an unbearable future and the most pivotal choice of her life.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2008

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