With contemporary India as backdrop, this debut tale of grief and recovery follows the quest of an American doctor to rediscover meaning after the violent death of his son.
When nine-year-old Castor is fatally shot in a Columbine-style school massacre, Neil Downs is unfortunate enough to be the ER surgeon on duty as the casualties come in. He hears his own child’s final words and helplessly watches him die. His wife proves hard to contact, finally turning up in the bed of a colleague. Furthermore, Neil finds himself famous overnight, prey to journalists wanting to know how it feels to have his child shot to pieces. This background story is rendered with such emotional power that a reader can overlook blunders in style, while the remaining bulk of the narrative, set in a contemporary Delhi that teems as much with clichés as it does with beggars, is less gripping. Seeking release from his grief, Neil finds a Holocaust survivor and writer, Levi Furstenblum, who lectures him on means of surviving when robbed of a belief in God’s goodness. This plot line, embellished by excerpts from Furstenblum’s philosophical writings, is undercut by the fact that none of the characters has ever at any time believed in God. Neil’s affair with the radical, and radically wealthy, Holika is likewise enfeebled since she’s engaged, contented to be so, and has no intention of pursuing her liaison with Neil, whose appeal to her never quite becomes clear. A complex subplot involving local political chicanery, political art espousing the cause of Indian womanhood, and corporate deal-making, dilutes more than enriches the tale. A quick-fix, unconvincing close leaves the reader with an aftertaste of the saccharine.
A moving setup is followed by lugubrious musings and digressions, achieving the remarkable feat of making India dull.