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Two worlds collide

Posted by Jim Concannon  July 26, 2009 12:54 PM

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Everyone has some sort of talent, but few people have many of them. You’d be hard-pressed, for instance, to find an evocative novelist who’s also a tenured mathematician.
So say hello to Manil Suri. Suri is a native of India who came to the United States as a student three decades ago, moved up the academic track, and became a professor of mathematics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where he still teaches. Even as he juggled his heavy courseload and his research, Suri began writing short stories, honing a literary sideline that eventually resulted in his first novel, ‘‘The Death of Vishnu,’’ published in 2001 to strong reviews, and since translated into 22 languages. The novel focused on a dying apartment-complex handyman and the lives of those in the units around him. Suri followed up that success last year with ‘‘The Age of Shiva,’’ about a mother’s suffocating love for her young son. His work tends to frame his characters’ interactions against the backdrop of Hindu mythology in a modernizing India.
Suri doesn’t view creative writing as an escape from dogged mathematics. On the contrary, he has become a champion of programs designed to draw public interest in math, and often makes speeches to help bring the two disciplines closer together. ‘‘Many people like mathematics while in school, but then have no further opportunity to enjoy it,’’ he says. ‘‘It’s not like art, for which you can go to a museum to satisfy a craving. I’d like to help push mathematics into the cultural arena. Perhaps even put a mathematician on Oprah.’’
Suri will read from his latest book and discuss his interests on Thursday, July 30, at 7 p.m. at Newtonville Books, 296 Walnut St. He’ll share the evening’s program with talented writer Don Lee, who’ll read from his latest novel, ‘‘Wrack and Ruin.’’

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