Manu Joseph

Serious Men

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A poignant, bitingly funny Indian satire and love story set in a scientific institute and in Mumbai’s humid tenements.
Ayyan Mani will not be constrained by Indian traditions. Despite working at the Institute of Theory and Research in Mumbai as the lowly personal assistant to a brilliant but insufferable astronomer, he dreams of more for himself and his family.
Ever wily and ambitious, Ayyan weaves two plots: the first to cheer up his weary, soap-opera-addicted wife by creating outrageous fictions around their ten-year-old son; the other to sabotage the married director by using his boss’s seeming romance with the institute’s first female—and very attractive—researcher. Meanwhile, as the institute’s Brahmins wage a vicious war over theories about alien life, Ayyan sees his deceptions intertwining and setting in motion a series of extraordinary events he cannot stop. Unfailingly funny and irreverent, Serious Men is at once a hilarious portrayal of runaway egos and ambitions and a moving portrait of love and its strange workings.
One of 2010’s “First Novels to Savor.” —Sunday Telegraph
From Publishers WeeklyJoseph, an editor of magazines in India, sets up in his debut a subtly wicked satire of subterfuge and ambition that bounces between the Mumbai tenement where low-caste Ayyan Mani lives, and the esteemed research institute where he labors as the assistant of top researcher Arvind Acharya. Forever spiteful toward his privileged superiors, Ayyan is deviously mischievous and pulls off a stunt that ends with his half-deaf (but otherwise ordinary) son being proclaimed in the local news as a boy genius. Meanwhile, Arvind is obsessed with proving his theory that extraterrestrial microbes are raining down on Earth from the upper atmosphere. While his theory is promising, an affair with a seductive astrobiologist threatens to cost him his life's work. Naturally, the conniving Ayyan is involved there as well. While Ayyan's inspired smalltime villainy drives the narrative and provides more than its share of humor, it's occasionally undermined by overheated prose and uneven pacing that spirals into a panicked blitz near the end. Overall, though, this is a sharp, au courant satire, like a more mannered White Tiger. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From BooklistThis ambitious debut cleverly weaves diverging plots of love, knowledge, class, and ambition. Low-caste Ayyan Mani works as an assistant to the director of the Institute of Theory and Research, where he carefully observes the interactions of the institute’s scientists. At night he returns to his small Mumbai tenement apartment, which he shares with his anxious wife and ten-year-old son Adi. Yearning for a better life for his family, Ayyan begins to spin a series of fabricated tales about his handicapped son, stories that slowly propel a series of life-changing events. Meanwhile, Ayyan’s hard-nosed genius boss, Arvind Acharya, is fixated on his theory of alien existence, and puts his professional reputation on the line. Arvind’s credibility is further complicated by the arrival of the institute’s first female researcher, a young woman who is attractive and manipulative. As Arvind’s professional ambitions give way to personal desire, Ayyan’s carefully constructed fictions begin to arouse suspicion. Joseph’s finely portrayed characters exude wit and warmth in this engaging and introspective tale. --Leah Strauss
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333 printed pages

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