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Serious Men Hardcover – 10 Jun 2010


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray; First Edition; 1st printing. edition (10 Jun. 2010)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1848543077
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848543072
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 3.1 x 23.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,420,557 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Funny, diverting and original (Guardian)

Manu Joseph's first novel elegantly describes collisions with an unyielding status quo, ably counterpointing the frustrations of the powerless with the unfulfilling realities of power. With this astute comedy of manners he makes a convincing bid for his own recognition as a novelist of serious talent, the latest addition to a roster of Indian writers who are creating fine literary art from their country's fearsome contradictions (Peter Carty, Independent)

Manu Joseph's satirical tale of an ostensibly new India still in thrall to its caste-ridden and sexist traditions is so much more than a mere comic caper . . . Sophisticated entertainment (Catherine Taylor, Guardian)

The finest comic novelists know that a small world can illuminate a culture and an age...with this sad-funny debut Joseph does just that (Boyd Tonkin, Books to light up lazy days, Independent)

He has written a debut novel that skewers a society where new ambitions and older class divisions co-exist. From the contrasts of contemporary India, he extracts pointed, often bitter comedy (Sunday Times)

The writing is exuberant (TLS)

The absurdity and humiliation of social exclusion drives the comedy of one of the year's most auspicious debuts (Independent)

A charming debut novel (Guardian)

Book Description

A sparkling, comic novel about modern India

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Manisha Swarup on 10 Mar. 2012
Format: Paperback
I have been hearing about this book for some time now and I am so glad I finally got down to reading it. It is one of the funniest books I have read but it is not funny in a flippant way. There is something about it that still lingers in me. In the beginning I could not make up my mind about whether I liked Ayyan Mani, the cunning anti-hero who promotes his 10-year-old son as a child-genius, but without my knowing I began to like him. Right from the start, I loved Acharya because Acharya is exactly what my father is. I found Oparna very recognisable among my friends. I am still not sure if I entirely liked her portrayal but I can see she is very believable. I know I will re-read this book a few times.
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Format: Paperback
At the center of this funny story are two men working at the Institute of Theory and Research in Mumbai, India. But the place of work of perhaps is the only thing that unites them.

Ayyan Mani is a representative of the lowest caste. Janitor's son, Mani began working at the Institute as a courier, rising to the position of secretary to one of the most important researchers of the Institute Arvind Acharya. Mani, after ten years of marriage, became tired of his silly wife and half-starved existence. His wife no longer seems attractive; the future does not seem bright. Not being the holder of outstanding intelligence, Mani nevertheless has the ability to intrigue. Every day, Mani places on the stand at the Institute fictitious quotes, allegedly belonging to an outstanding scientist or thinker, but in fact he makes these statements up. The only way to rise from the bottom Mani sees in his clever son. But just cleverness alone is not enough, you need something more. Deaf in one ear, Adi is presented by his father as a mathematical genius.

Eccentric people inhabit this somewhat eccentric story. «Serious Men» can be easily mistaken for satire, but it is rather humorous novel. Satirical allusions to the structure of Indian society, Indian science and Indian religion then are withdrawn dashed, and the humor here, perhaps, is even English.

All the troubles come from women - about this with a smirk on his face Manu Joseph is trying to tell us. Indeed, the plot is moved with this premise. This is the same engine of the ridiculous here. The two main characters are tormented by vanishing love in them. They're both tired of their wives, available lovely creatures with whom they had once felt good, and now somehow uncomfortable.
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8 of 15 people found the following review helpful By S. Shroff on 20 Nov. 2010
Format: Hardcover
The plot is interesting and there were some good observations about life in general and Indian middle class life in particular. I was, however, confused and put off several times by what appears to me to be grammatical errors in this book. The novel is the place where some of the most considered writing resides - and readers choose to turn away from the rubbish of daily life (social networking, reality TV shows) and in my view it is important for a novel to be more discriminating, more worthy of a reader's time than an article in a newspaper.

I'm no grammatical pedant and am young enough to understand that the way we use English changes over time. My grammar is certainly not very good either. However these errors in a novel - such as treating a common noun as a proper noun - grated with me. I grew up in India and this is a typical Hinglish way of using common nouns in conversation, although I find it alarming in a novel, especially as part of the narration (and not as a piece of dialogue from a character, which is fine of course, because a character can speak how a character needs to speak). "It was seven when he reached office," is one sentence halfway through the novel. The lack of a "the" before the word office, is one small example of the grammatical errors littered throughout the book.

English newspapers seem to fall over themselves to praise every so-so book from India, each one hailed as a "new generation" and as a "satire on the caste system." Perhaps England is still in love with the romance of Empire, and sometimes fetishises Indian fiction, whether is is good or not. Although I do like it that England has an appetite for Indian fiction. Tired cliches abound - a woman whose husband has admitted to an affair thinks to herself, "It felt as if someone had died.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 32 reviews
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Astounding! 25 Aug. 2010
By Dick Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I cannot remember the last time a book was so relaxingly enjoyable. Though I've honestly used the words in other reviews; I truly did not want this one to end.

While the story is a satire of the social conventions of India, the real appeal of the novel is in the characters. There are two groups: Ayyan Mani and his family; and the scientists at the Institute of Theory and Research.

Though some of the scientists are stereotyped, they are portrayed so amusingly that I didn't care. Seeing them go about their 'work' was a hoot. The academic jealousy and fighting for funds showed that this is a constant in academia the world over.

Ayyan, his wife Oja, and their son Adi are marvelously portrayed and anything but stereotyped. Their lives and their place in the plot are handled in a manner that draws us to them. They became people I wanted to spend much more time with.

There are two plot lines running through the book. The main line revolves around that universal world of the academics and the social issues related to sex, castes and opportunities. The second, but even more enjoyable, line is about Ayyan and Oja's son, the 'genius' Adi - and especially Adi's relationship with Ayyan.

This is a book to be savored. I rarely read a novel a second time; but this is going to remain on my 'to be read' shelves. Even if I don't read it a second time, just seeing it will remind me of the enjoyable time I had and remind me to watch for Manu Joseph's next book. I hope it will come soon!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
An excellent first book 14 Nov. 2010
By Raghu Nathan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Manu Joseph's 'Serious Men' has an engaging starting line - 'Ayyan Mani's thick black hair was combed sideways and parted by a careless broken line, like the borders the British used to draw between hostile neighbours'. It is not as great as Tolstoy's first line in 'Anna Karinina' or Camus' 'Outsider' but it makes you want to read on. Joseph has a great ability to observe and write as shown by many gems of one or two-liners in the book. The book is predominantly about the scientists of the Institute of Theory and Research in Mumbai and the life of a clerk who works for the Director of the Institute. There are two story lines and they run in parallel without major interactions. The scientists are predominantly Brahmins and - you guessed it - the clerk is Untouchable! The scientist side of the story deals with career politics under the garb of pursuing 'truth', the ensuing scramble for power and associated vicious conspiracies and a bit of sex thrown in between the aged Director and a young Bengali woman scientist. The Untouchable side of the story deals with Ayyan Mani, the clerk, planning and pulling off an elaborate con in passing his ten-year old son as a child genius. Though the story lines wander a bit on their own, the author brings them together to get a good ending.
The book is basically a satirical look at many aspects of the contemporary life in India. The author pokes fun at both the Brahmins and the Untouchables, though he is naturally more merciless on the Brahmins. From the descriptions, it is quite obvious that the author means the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) of Mumbai when he writes 'Institute of Theory and Research'. Since I worked there for four years in the 1970s, I read the book with even greater interest. However, I must say that I experienced the atmosphere and environment in TIFR as very liberating and free of the pettiness and bureaucracy that I experienced later in other govt institutions in Delhi. My memory of the many scientists then was not one of the small-minded and bigoted ones portrayed in the book. Though it is true that what the author has portrayed is true of life in India, one feels that the author probably had his overseas audience in mind as one reads the usual stereotyping in representing the Brahmin scientists and the Untouchable clerk.
In spite of all this, the quality of writing is of a high standard and the author has many gems of a line sprayed all over the book. Some examples are as below:
'yes sir, yes sir' said Basu many more times on the phone to the Minister. It was a private dialect of the Indian bureaucracy and it has no other words'.

'A man cannot be exactly the way he wants to be and also dream of keeping his wife' said Ayyan Mani to the Director.

After meeting Michael Jackson, the Minister told the press, 'He is a polite man. There is no trace of arrogance in him. You didn't get the feeling at all that you are talking to a white man'

'Of all human deformities', said the Director, 'genius is the most useful'

'Ayyan Mani, after learning that his sperm count was only half that of a normal man his age, told his wife that she is duty bound to sleep with him twice as many times as normal men do.....'

The book is strewn with many passages of savage satire on caste, class and also on modern society's blind reverence for science even though many scientists themselves do not understand it all. In this regard, the author rightly has a go at the bizarre claims of String Theory and its concept of the Universe.
I enjoyed reading the book even though I felt that he is unfair to TIFR and its scientists. Manu Joseph is a promising writer and I look forward to his next book.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Seriously satirical comedy of manners 24 Dec. 2010
By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
SERIOUS MEN combines serious charm, salacious wit, and combative, scientific cogitations that will appeal to lovers of subversive drollery. It is a comedy of manners, spotlighting the age-old caste consciousness of Brahmins vs. Dalits (formerly Untouchables), taking place primarily in a Scientific Research Institute and also in a Maharashtran chawl, an Indian tenement housing for the poor and lowly.

Two aging, eccentric Brahmin scientists at the Institute of Theory and Research in Mumbai vie for funds and advancement for their dueling theories of alien life. Meanwhile, younger Dalit clerk Ayyan Mani weaves his Machiavellian mischief with the insurgent dexterity of a snake in the grass, but a snake you want to root for. Manu Joseph allows the reader to perceive each character from several viewpoints, and in ever more dicey situations.

Ayyan wants more for his eleven-year-old son, Adi, than a fixed and dismal future typically available for a Dalit. His still-young wife has slipped into a cheerless existence of watching soap operas and automatic functioning, and he longs to inspire her passion again. Achieving these aims requires a cunning treachery and a fierce devotion, one that rivals the outrageous ambitions of the wizards he works for and nimbly intrudes on daily.

Filled with counterpoints and contradictions, as well as a sly merriment on every page, debut author Joseph spins a provocative yarn that builds slowly in the first half, and progresses with an ineluctable immediacy in the latter part of the story, luring the reader into a tight symmetry of scandalous adventure.

"Man is not searching for aliens. Man is searching for man. It's called loneliness. Not science."

Wry, intelligent observations fuel this delicious satire about the search for meaningful existence and the power to find it. Joseph blends an edgy morality tale with a soulful examination of family and love.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant Satire and Incredible Style 18 Nov. 2010
By C. E. Selby - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I suspect other readers will find themselves slowing their reading of this brilliant novel because the setting and the characters are so unusual and so carefully crafted. For the first few pages I wasn't sure I was going to like this novel. But then I was caught in the author's web. We see on TV and in movies so many images of poverty in urban India. This novel depicts it but with a strange sense of humor, not exactly black humor. It is the intricacy of the points of view, most especially the central character's. Ayyan Mani, married to soap-opera-loving Oja, lives in a tiny abode, part of one of those we-are-just-a-step-above-poverty arrangements in which there is no bathroom and where people build an "attic," a crawl space, for privacy, i.e., a place to have sexual contact. They have a ten-year-old son who is a problem for the Catholic school he attends. You see, he is rather bright! And his father nutures that in him while Oja, the mother, is baffled by it and often annoyed.
So we have a story of their domestic lives.
And then there is the story of this absurd "think tank" where Ayyan works as a sort of secretary, one of those snoop types that the reader will truly love. Essentially absolutely nothing happens there, but the supposed intellectuals are so sure that they are making the most valuable contributions to something although what we really never quite know because they are divided into factions, one of which doesn't think there is anything to be gained by looking for alien intelligence in meteors.
So this is sort of Orwellian. But not really. And for those who have read Josh Ferris's wonderful satire "Then We Came to the End," well, I suspect you will enjoy this one too.
I think this book is going to be very well received. And hopefully given an award or two. Or three.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Infectious and Droll 10 Mar. 2011
By Bryan Byrd - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Although taking place a world away, and in a culture I am only familiar with in passing, Manu Joseph infuses the characters of 'Serious Men' with a household universalism I thought was infectious and refreshing. The amusing similarities between his 'serious men' and those I meet in my life create the happy illusion of narrowing the gulf between our worlds, despite a plot that occasionally stretches believability. There are, of course, some cultural touchstones that are necessary for a smoother read -- readers with little or no background on the history of India may not find as much context as usual to pick up the threads of the story, but even a cursory knowledge of India's colonial past and caste system should be sufficient.

With that in place, what one finds in 'Serious Men' is a droll story of values and how people carve out meaning in the world they are given. Ayyan Mani, consigned by birth, heritage, and education to the lowest levels of Indian society, works as a clerk in the prestigious Institute of Theory and Research. Every day, he takes calls for and runs the errands of the director, Arvind Acharya, a Nobel worthy scientist who has never had the fortune of winning the prize. Within this setting, Ayyan, who is a leader of sorts to the other clerks and maintenance workers, seeks to use his position and influence to make a better life for his wife and young son, Adi.

Aside from the common character traits that make this story so immediate, Manu Joseph also has a slyly comic way with words and descriptions. At a time of reflection and loss of direction, the clerk Ayyan idly gazes at the worn couch in the great scientist's reception room:

'Its leather was tired and creased. There was a gentle depression in the seat as though a small invisible man had been waiting there forever to meet Acharya and show him the physics of invisibility.' Taken out of context, it loses some of its charm, but there are many small gems like this one-- that one happened to be my favorite.

There are some flaws to 'Serious Men' -- mostly a stylistic choice to abruptly shift points of view, and a feeling that the women characters were never fully fleshed out -- but its positives far outweigh the negatives. Driven by character and story, this would be an excellent vacation or travel read, and highly enjoyable any time.

A quick note of thanks to Amazon reviewer Switterbug for bringing this one to my attention.
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