A disgraced surgeon faces his greatest challenge—bringing the dead back to life—in this macabre, philosophical novel.
Exiled from his big-city practice after his medical career was ruined by a trumped-up malpractice scandal, the protagonist of this dark tale spends his days overseeing a decrepit clinic in an Indian village, where he sews up minor injuries, dispenses vaccines, and seethes over the corruption of government officials in particular and mankind in general. Into his office one evening walks a schoolteacher, his wife and their son, each presenting ghastly wounds and an even stranger story: They claim to be undead victims of a robbery/murder, and they need the surgeon to suture their wounds by sunrise, when life—and blood flow—will be restored to their mutilated bodies. Flummoxed but mindful of his duty, the surgeon, with the help of his terrified assistant, sets about treating his unusual patients, which steeps the novel in grisly but engrossing surgical procedure. His patients have no trouble conversing, even though they’re dead and, in one case, missing a larynx, so he spends much of his time talking to them about their odd predicament. Specifically, they discuss the dismaying experience of the afterlife—a bureaucracy that’s even more opaque and frustrating than India’s—and their views on morality and faith in a universe where angels exist but God may not. Paralkar is a talented practitioner of magical realism who combines dense, naturalistic detail with evocative metaphor and eerie atmospherics (“The sun was a bag of blood sliced open by the horizon”). For all its fantastical elements, however, there’s an existentialist gravity to the story that’s part Kafka and part The Brothers Karamazov—“You just pick a river and decide that its water is holy”—but its characters’ ruminations still carry a moving emotional resonance. The result is an unsettling meditation on life and death.
A wonderfully creepy fable with real literary depth.