In the not too distant future, the morose Egyptian, Antar, works in New York City, as a home-based computer employee, monitoring artifacts which he can study holographically through cyber space. He conjures up the I.D. card of one L. Murugan, who had supposedly disappeared in Calcutta back in 1995. Murugan is/was an expert on Nobel laureate Ronald Ross, discoverer of the role of the anopheles mosquito in the transmission of malaria.

Through flashbacks to the intense week of his disappearance and to episodes in the late nineteenth century, the virtual Murugan roams Calcutta trying desperately to understand and expose a subtext of counter science in Ross's laboratory. He is joined by Urmila, a journalist whose life is endangered by their collaboration.

Murugan theorizes that Ross was sloppy, intent on fame and fortune though a simplistic rendering of the parasite-host relationship; his discoveries were fed to him by others and he was blind to the spiritualistic ambitions of Mangala, his Indian laboratory technologist. Conceiving of the powerful significance of malaria prevention and control, Mangala held different views on the purpose and means of investigating the disease and, Murugan thinks, she anticipated the later discovery of another Nobel laureate, J. Wagner-Jauregg, in the use of malaria for the treatment of syphilis. The travels of Murugan and Urmila imply that these views are still there awaiting their own discovery.


Multiple layers, numerous personalities, and complex time frames wander through the novel. The many Casteneda-like visions and mind-altering encounters spin an atmosphere of intrigue and suspicion around Ross and his Indian associates. Urmila copes with the dilemma of educated Indian women, as she tries to keep a career against the sexist demands of her family, who are indifferent to her desires, the importance of her work, and the risks that she incurs.

In explicating his hypothesis of the "Calcutta chromosome"--a chromosomal means of transmitting information, Murugan utters a Heisenberg-like uncertainty principle that seems to govern the writing: "to know something is to change it." Without clearly articulating any particular alternative explanation for malaria, the work is stimulating for its intriguing allusions to genetics, culture, colonialism, Nobel scientists, and their relationship to the disease that continues to kill two to three million people every year.


Knopf, Canada

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