A debut novel examines whether immortality is a boon or a curse.
Castello’s protagonist is Steven Ronson, a young man who has seen far too much death as a medic during World War II. Steven’s life changes forever when he stumbles upon letters describing an immortality formula designed for Hitler and the pills themselves while liberating the Dachau concentration camp. As the only surviving member of his original unit, Steven feels safe trying the pills he has discovered: “It certainly looked as if it was imbued with magical properties. What did I have to lose? Perhaps I could cheat the Grim Reaper until I’d made it safely home to Florida.” Following the death of his father, Steven leaves Miami to chase his dream of becoming a professional saxophone player in New York City. The pills enable him to become an otherworldly musician, and a label soon wants to sign him and the combo with whom he’s been playing. But he’s more interested in learning about Chow Li and Chang Sou, the immortal figures representing good and evil who appear in the visions that accompany his music. He travels to China with the love of his life, Jennifer Harrison, and her Uncle Albert, a longtime missionary in that country. The bulk of the tale is set in revolutionary-era China as the trio and Chow Li seek to combat Chang Sou’s growing power. Castello skillfully uses Steven’s arc to show that immortality doesn’t necessarily translate into having it all: “I was still much more curious about life.…The only drawback was that those closest to me, those whom I loved, were all gone. I was completely alone.” The author successfully mixes quite a bit of history in his narrative, including such figures as Mao, the Dalai Lama, and Charlie Parker. He even includes an extraterrestrial element and a connection between Tibetan monks and Nazis that somehow remains believable. This is a well-structured, thought-provoking novel with the message “Be careful what you wish for.”
A deft cautionary tale about living forever.