Title/Author: Night Theater by Vikram Paralkar
Published: January 14, 2020
In a nutshell (Publisher):
A surgeon flees a scandal in the city and accepts a job at a village clinic. He buys antibiotics out of pocket, squashes roaches, and chafes at the interventions of the corrupt officer who oversees his work.
But his outlook on life changes one night when a teacher, his pregnant wife, and their young son appear. Killed in a violent robbery, they tell the surgeon that they have been offered a second chance at living if the surgeon can mend their wounds before sunrise.
So begins a night of quiet work, “as if the crickets had been bribed,” during which the surgeon realizes his future is tied more closely to that of the dead family than he could have imagined. By dawn, he and his assistant have gained knowledge no mortal should have.
In this inventive novel charged with philosophical gravity and sly humor, Vikram Paralkar takes on the practice of medicine in a time when the right to health care is frequently challenged. Engaging earthly injustice and imaginaries of the afterlife, he asks how we might navigate corrupt institutions to find a moral center. Encompassing social criticism and magically unreal drama, Night Theater is a first novel as satisfying for its existential inquiry as for its enthralling story of a skeptical physician who arrives at a greater understanding of life’s miracles.
My verdict: An atmospheric, haunting, thought-provoking read!
This was one weird-woah-what-did-I-just-read book, but in a good way. So we have a surgeon, affectionately known as (Doctor) Saheb, and his two loyal staff – his pharmacist and her repairman husband, who worked at a clinic in a rural village in India. One night, they were visited by three walking, living corpses – a father, a pregnant mother and a young son. They were humans, just dead, violently murdered by bandits, and they had walked all the way from another district to this village just to see the surgeon.
They needed him to save their lives, which the surgeon thought was ridiculous because they were already dead. After the father told him and convinced him of their afterlife story – that they were given a chance to live again by some kind official in the afterlife – the surgeon felt like he was given no choice but to help. And he was given a deadline – he had to ‘save’ them by sunrise. If he failed to do so, the patients would die all over again and stay in the afterlife forever.
The book opened to a very bitter surgeon, seeing his patients without much care, as opposed to his pharmacist who showed to have more grace, compassion and empathy towards the patients, and one could see how loyal she and her husband were towards the surgeon despite his cold treatment towards them. But there was more to Doctor Saheb than what he showed in public. As the story of the living dead unfolded, so did his.
The surgeon was accused of causing the death of one of his patients and cast out to this remote place. He accepted the job here because he had no other choice. He, who once believed in “Help(ing) those who come to me”, and taking matters in his own hands, now, wasn’t so sure about it anymore after what happened, especially when odds kept stacking against him, one after another – first the loss of his job, then the visit from the official, now a visit from the walking dead. What’s the point of doing good? It’s no surprise that he didn’t believe in God.
On the other hand, the pharmacist, who was God-fearing and whose life’s principles was guided by her religion and beliefs, always believed in leaving life in God’s hands – “Whatever happen, let it happen. Why try to change it?” She tried to dissuade the surgeon from changing the fate of the three patients, who were meant to be dead.
On the day before the murder took place, the patients took pity on an old and tired palmist they came across at a village fair and had their palms read, and was told that they’ll have long lives. Evidently, the palmist lied, and the father hated him for that. Later, we’d find out that the father too, had lied to his family and the surgeon about their afterlife situation, which angered all of them.
But the palmist and the father did what they had to do because they had a chance to save their lives. Was it wrong to do so? Quoting the official who visited the surgeon that day, “It’s that everything about sin lies in how you choose to look at it.” And the question he posed to the surgeon,
“…if you find yourself in a position where you have to harm someone to preserve your own life, what would you do?”
And the official, seemed to me, to be the afterlife official in disguise who had come to teach the surgeon a lesson about living and the afterlife, about giving life and taking lives; and the baby from the pregnant lady, in my opinion, was there to give the surgeon a second chance at living his life differently, and to be a little God-fearing, maybe. But then again, if the surgeon heeded the pharmacist’s advice, that was to not interfere with God’s will, the baby who was born, wouldn’t gave gotten a second chance at life, would she?
I think this would make a great Book Club read. But be warned, the surgeries performed were described in detail, hence, NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH. I skimmed those parts.
Overall, this is a dark, haunting and intriguing tale about life and death, humanity and second chances. For readers who dare to venture into the unknown.Tweet
NOTE: Read this at night, when it’s quiet. You’d appreciate it more 🙂
Have you read this book? What did you think? If you haven’t, do you intend to read it? Please share with me your thoughts!
Thank you NetGalley and Catapult for a free eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine.
Last but not least, thank you for stopping by! May the power of good books, be with you always! And STAY HOME, STAY SAFE & WELL. WASH YOUR HANDS! xxx