A surgeon must bring a dead family back to life in this fabulist debut novel set in rural India, called “otherworldly” and “a haunting contemplation of life, death, the liminal space in between, and the dogged search for resurrection” (Kirkus Reviews, starred).
Fleeing scandal in the city, a surgeon 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.
Paralkar (The Afflictions) draws on his experience as a physician in this fablelike tale that melds the philosophical with the corporeal. After a near career-ending scandal, an unnamed surgeon in India grudgingly figures he'll finish his career caring for the rural poor, doing his best with the outmoded equipment and minimal supplies at his disposal. One night, he's visited by a family a young boy, his father, and his pregnant mother asking for his help. As it happens, they're all dead, the victims of an attack by highwaymen. The family claims to have been visited by an angel who has insisted that this surgeon alone has the skills to return them to life but there's only one night to repair their bodies. Accompanied by his devout young assistant, the decidedly a-religious surgeon embarks on the greatest challenge of his career, all the while considering questions about mortality, the afterlife, and the challenges of living an upright life. Paralkar's novel underscores the arbitrary nature of death, the fact that one can neither prepare for it nor, perhaps, cheat one's way out of it. Metaphysical conversations contrast with the detailed descriptions of surgery on damaged bodies that no longer either bleed or feel pain. Grotesque, strange, and hopeful in turns, the novel will leave readers marveling at the mysteries of death and the wonders of life.