Manil Suri, THE DEATH OF VISHNUManil Suri. , $39.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-694-52442-6

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THE DEATH OF VISHNUManil Suri, read by John Lee. HarperAudio, unabridged, eight cassettes, 10 hrs., $39.95 ISBN 0-694-52442-5

This is a remarkable first novel, whose lyric prose is further enhanced by Lee's soft, mesmerizing reading. The story hinges on the comatose alcoholic Vishnu, who lays dying on the first floor landing of the Bombay apartment building for which he is the houseboy. Suri has fashioned Vishnu as the conduit to each and all of the book's vibrant characters and their intertwined comic, tragic and melodramatic stories. Vishnu enables listeners to move easily through the real, the mystical, the metaphoric; as he gradually slips down into death, he crawls slowly up the stairs, recalling fine and funny scenes of his youth and early manhood. Even listeners unfamiliar with India's religions and the Hindu trinity of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer will marvel at Suri's ability to reveal the tapestry and nuances of Indian culture through the activity contained in one small apartment building, to which Lee's rich and myriad Indian accents add atmosphere and humor. Simultaneous release with the Norton hardcover (Forecasts, Nov. 6, 2000). (Jan.)