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 Riveting material is given redundant and indifferent treatment in this misshapen first novel ``about horror and the macabre in India,'' by Siegel (Net of Magic, not reviewed, etc.), a professor of religion at the University of Hawaii. Its author-researcher's stay in the city of Varanasi steeps him in images--and evidence--of both fabulistic and factual horrors, beginning with the woman who transforms herself into the ``human bomb'' that assassinates Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, then focusing major attention on a locally famous itinerant storyteller, Brahm Kathuwala, a ghostly figure whom Siegel pursues throughout most of this book's duration. An extended story that Brahm tells listeners who gather about him nightly is juxtaposed, more or less, with Siegel's piecemeal recapitulation of the life of the tale- teller, a lonely and effectively motherless boy whose obsessive fascination with his near-namesake Bram Stoker is reflected in eerie coincidences between Stoker's lurid masterpiece and Brahm's own experiences and relationships. ``I wrote it in a former life,'' the latter Brahm says of Dracula, acknowledging that he may indeed be a reincarnation, if not something even more evanescent (``Sometimes I have to wonder . . . whether I'm a storyteller or a story told,'' he proclaims elsewhere). It's hard to know what this curiously organized fiction aims to say, beyond the obvious implication that horror takes many forms in the roiling chaos of political and religious instability that is India. The reader is kept at a confused distance by the ``novel's'' apparently arbitrary structure, profusion of epigraphs, surfeit of sickeningly visceral detail, and undifferentiated reappearances of lepers, poisonous snakes, flesh-eating corpses, and other stock paraphernalia that have the obviously unintended effect of diverting our attention from the putative central story--of Brahm Kathuwala, whoever, or whatever, he may be. In Dracula, Bram Stoker had the good sense to contain his otherworldly contrivances within a compelling linear narrative. One wishes the author of this unfortunately turgid homage to it had done the same.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 1995
ISBN: 0-226-75688-2
Page count: 264pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1995


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