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on 22 June 2013
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 Satirical allusions to the structure of Indian society, Indian science and Indian religion then are withdrawn dashed, and the humor here, perhaps, is even English.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. Both the secretary and the scientist, excel, as they can, just to pull themselves out of the swamp, to refresh their covered with cobwebs existence. Mani sets up to the scam involving his son to shake his wife, to prove to her that even the lower castes can achieve something. Acharya is looking for bodily pleasures, and finds them in a lovely young colleague. But the scientist forgets that science and feelings are different matter, and they require a different approach. At the beginning of the novel there are a few funny scenes where Acharya looks in the mirror at his body, starts to use deodorant, though he already seems to have given up on his looks long ago.

The story would be lost in the background of similar ones, if the action occurred in Britain, for example, not in India. Exotic colors entourage battered story in a new way. The people there have a different mentality, different views on life, different values. The mere fact that India has the Institute for the search of extraterrestrial life, is laughable.

Joseph is verbose, but he does have a sense of the word. He can equally good describe the poor neighborhood and the meeting of the Disciplinary Commission. This is a leisure reading, but because, after all, it is not a thriller.

Serious Men does not discover new lands, but tells a story that could suck you in and make you laugh.
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on 10 March 2012
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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on 20 November 2010
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." Much later, as a couple are going through a confrontation, the rain "grows violent" outside, matching the weather to the mood.

All in all it's a good, light, urban plot and touches on the Indian IIT (India's Harvard)graduate's typical obsession with science above everything else. It's a first novel and that's obvious too. It's also not sentimental and it's intelligent, which is great (unlike the un-literary 'gap year' fiction that was Shantaram). I'd just like British critics to judge Indian fiction in the same way as fiction from England. If a book of this quality was written in England, in my view, it would certainly get none of these inane, undeserved pieces of praise it has received. Sloppy praise damages the faith of the reader in reviews and ultimately in the novel itself. If you want an intelligent recent urban Indian novel, I'd recommend Amit Chaudhuri's The Immortals.
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