Serious Men – Manu Joseph

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Shortlisted for 2011 Commonwealth Prize South Asia & Europe Best First Book
Shortlisted for 2010 the Man Asian Literary Prize
Winner of 2010 Hindu Best Fiction Award

Five words from the blurb: Mumbai, slums, son, genius, comic

Serious Men had a controversial reception in India because it depicts a Dalit (someone of a lower caste) as being a victim of circumstance instead of having an inferior intelligence to the Brahmin (upper-caste people). This attitude offends many people in India who like to see that these social barriers remain unquestioned.

The book centres on Ayyan, a man so fed up of life in the slums that he decides to hatch a plan to elevate his position. He claims that his 10-year-old son is a mathematical genius, but whilst this gains the attention he was looking for, the lie quickly gets out of hand.

The book is quick and easy to read, but unfortunately the humour wasn’t to my taste and although I could spot the jokes they barely raised a smile in me.

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 two hostile neighbours.

The book did a fantastic job of showing the differences between the Indian castes and the unjust way in which a person’s position at birth determines their outcome in life, but as a novel I found it unsatisfying. The story had little forward momentum and I was frequently bored by their trivial discussions.

Ayyan Mani surveyed the room with his back to the wall, as he had done many times, and tried to understand how it came to be that truth was now in the hands of these unreal men. They were in the middle of debating the perfect way to cut a cake and were concluding that carving triangular pieces, as everyone does, was inefficient. 

I also failed to connect with the characters on an emotional level.

I know that a lot of people will love this book and I did find a lot to like, but I’m afraid it just didn’t contain my kind of humour.

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The thoughts of other bloggers:

It’s the kind of book that you yearn to discuss, debate, analyze and always remember. At Pemberley

Joseph, a former editor of The Times of India, tries to weave a funny and clever novel about the ridiculousness of academia, and for the most part, he succeeds. Mumbai Boss

….this is an amazing book and follows in the league of White Tiger in terms of satire by Indian authors on society. Sandeepinlife’s Weblog


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7 Comments

  1. And thought from review on Curious Book Fans…”Serious Men however spins from caste to span the larger social matter of egos and ambitions and love and hope which may or may not be written in the stars.”

    1. Jackie says:

      CuriusBookFans, Sounds as though they liked it too :-)

  2. Uhh… this book doesn’t sound very good!! I don’t know, but I was reading your thoughts on it, and the one word that came to mind was, blah. The quotes you’ve put down almost makes it sound like the author is trying too hard.

    However, it does seem to have made its way to various shortlists and won an award as well, so maybe it is worth a read. To be honest, at the risk of sounding like a philistine, the cover doesn’t make me want to read it….

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, I think it is a worthwhile read – if you get the humour. I have a problem with satire at the best of times. Perhaps I just don’t know enough about the relationship between the Indian castes?

    2. mathew says:

      Serious Men is a book that happens once in a while. It is not a yet another book.May be this is the one and only book from India that discusses the futile money waste called research in India.This is a book where high intellectual calculations have been applied . The author is one of India’s best Journalists and the depth of his knowledge is amazing.

  3. Andi says:

    Based on the passages you shared, not sure this humor would be to my liking either. Interesting premise, though.

    1. Jackie says:

      Andi, Yes – it does sound good, just a shame that I don’t share a sense of humour with the author.

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