Once again this year, Cambridge professor P.R. Chandrasekhar has not won the Nobel Prize, and things are going to get worse before they get any better.
"Professor Chandra was the foremost trade economist in the world, could phone any finance minister in any country at any time and have them take his call." The fourth novel from Balasubramanyam (Starstruck, 2015, etc.) introduces its self-important antihero on the day he not only misses the Nobel, but is called on the carpet and asked to take a sabbatical because he has called a student an imbecile. On the way out, he is hit by a bicyclist and has a heart attack. Ordered to spend two months resting, he lies in bed and watches the entire first season of Friends, "finally understanding the jokes his children had made throughout the nineties." But Chandra has a great deal more to understand about his children; the simple relationships he had with them when they were small have long since soured. He has been estranged from his older daughter for several years, his son lives in Hong Kong and rarely visits, and his teenage daughter is in Colorado with his ex-wife, Jean, and her new husband, Steve. He goes to visit her in Boulder, but long-simmering resentments result in his punching Steve in the nose shortly after he arrives. In exchange for pretending to Jean that his injury was caused by swimming into the wall of the swimming pool, Steve—a highly evolved being who has spent much time in India—forces Chandra to enroll in a three-day workshop at Esalen, the famous retreat center/hot springs in Big Sur. Here, the professor's bumpy road to self-awareness begins, with a detailed but not too didactic presentation of exactly what goes on at "Being Yourself in the Summer Solstice." Post-Esalen, a crisis befalls the family that gives Chandra the opportunity to rebuild his relationships.
Recovering fuddy-duddy Chandra is a droll creation, and his journey of self-realization feels like the real thing.