‘… to know something is to change it, therefore in knowing something, you’ve already changed what you think you know so you don’t really know it at all; you only know it’s history.”
If you want to read an engaging, but refreshingly bizarre sci-fi thriller, you should definitely get your hands on Amitav Ghosh’s 1996 novel, ‘The Calcutta Chromosome – a novel of fevers, delirium and discovery’. The novel moves in a frenzied time loop, hopping from a futuristic Manhattan to 1995’s Calcutta to the Victorian years preceding Sir Ronald Ross’ discovery of the Malarial parasite in the early 1900s. This is unlike anything Ghosh has written; a mash of Western medicine, Indian tantric practices, mosquitoes, modern science, immortality and the transference of souls – all in all, a very enjoyable read!
Antar is an Egyptian data-analyst in Manhattan, whose computer, the AVA/ IIe is his only companion. A widower, due-to-retire, he stumbles upon the damaged ID card of an ex-colleague, L. Murugan (Morgan), who went missing several years ago. Ghosh, then, takes us through the winding lanes of Calcutta, as we follow an obsessed Murugan on his quest to find the truth about Ronald Ross and his discovery of a cure for Malaria, which, Murugan believes wasn’t his at all! Ghosh introduces the idea of a secret cult of ancient Indian practitioners of medicine, who plant ideas in Ross’ head, using his findings to further their own experiments on immortality.
The Calcutta Chromosome is peppered with confusing sub-plots, blink-and-miss characters and a ton of unanswered questions! You have to pay attention! Ghosh takes a historical event and packs it with magic realism, mysticism and mystery. With a story so layered, it’s difficult to sum it up in one review. You HAVE to read it to know. It has fiery female characters, a demi-goddess, elements of the supernatural and blood sacrifices; in the words of Murugan, this book is the “whole f**cking paratha”!
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