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.
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About the AuthorVikram Paralkar was born and raised in Mumbai. Author of a previous book, The Afflictions, he is a physician-scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, where he treats patients with leukemia and researches the disease. He lives in Philadelphia.
Praise for Night Theater
Time, 1 of 12 New Books to Read This Month
An American Booksellers Association Indie Next Selection
BuzzFeed, 1 of 83 Books to Keep on your Radar This Year
A Craft New Book of the Month
Syfy Wire, 1 of 8 Science Fiction/Fantasy Books to Pick Up This Month
"Otherworldly . . . [Paralkar's] prose is sharp and melodious, and within these enchanting passages is a haunting contemplation of life, death, the liminal space in between, and the dogged search for resurrection . . . A beguiling and unforgettable fable." --Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Fablelike tale that melds the philosophical with the corporeal . . . 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 . . . Grotesque, strange, and hopeful in turns, the novel will leave readers marveling at the mysteries of death--and the wonders of life." --Publishers Weekly
"Paralkar merges folklore and fable, meditative commentary and meticulous detail . . . Each nameless character is drawn with psychological depth and layered motivations. Paralkar, a physician-scientist, melds medical realism and metaphysical debate, wry humor and somber observations to create a riveting and intriguing tale." --Booklist
"Having been compared to his idol Jorge Luis Borges in the past, there seems no better author than Paralkar to tackle the conundrum of limbo, and all the gory wonder it might entail." --Jeva Lange, The Week
"Set in rural India, Paralkar's Night Theater is a medical drama that veers into the unearthly . . . This book braids philosophy, magical realism, and the complicated facts of health care in the modern age into a compact and compelling story." --BuzzFeed, 1 of 15 Small Press Books to Kick Off Your Reading Season
"Startling, and very precise prose." --J. R. Ramakrishnan, Electric Literature
"A teacher, his pregnant wife, and their young son walk into a clinic late one night. It sounds like the start of a joke, but it's actually the start of a wildly surreal novel, in which this family tells the surgeon that they have been killed and given a chance to come back to life, if he can mend their wounds by sunrise. (We love an ominous one-night-only challenge!) Written by an actual physician-scientist, Night Theater dredges up ethical/existential questions and a whole lot of wonder." --Katie Yee, Literary Hub, One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Year
"Night Theater is an imaginative novel that tackles questions about the purpose of life through characters who, when left to choose, find both pros and cons in the afterlife, too." --Foreword Reviews
"Paralkar's prose is beautiful, sometimes stunning . . . As it must in a story of the supernatural, the doubts, yearnings, and simple humanity of the characters ring utterly true. While vividly depicting human physiology in all its glistening, sinewy, gory glory, the physician writer allows the celestial mystery of the meaning of life to stand. There is no reassuring diagnosis of eternal redemption or prescription for salvation. Though the afterlife be uncertain, we know our existence is real. Be a good person, be kind to others, for that may be your only reward." --Alice Stephens, Washington Independent Review of Books
"Yes, Night Theater is an exquisite fable about what we need and what we want, and a beautiful meditation on what it means to be alive. But it reads like an urgent thriller, full of characters pumping with blood and guts, twisting and turning and twisting again. This novel actually kept me up all night and then some, clutching my mortality, listening to my heartbeat, drawing that line between the living and the dead until it blurred." --Aja Gabel, author of The Ensemble
"In rural India an unnamed surgeon uncovers old secrets: What do angels look like? Why are tears denied to the dead? Is the afterlife run by bureaucrats? The surgeon's indifference to death is like God's, only more terrifying because it is human. I read this book in a single addictive sitting. It will stay with me for a long time." --Jeet Thayil, author of the Booker Prize-short-listed Narcopolis
"Haunting and irresistible. I cannot wait for you to read this book." --Wayétu Moore, author of She Would Be King
"A haunting, hallucinatory fable, Night Theater wrestles with the deepest mysteries of morality, death, and the afterlife." --Rachel Heng, author of Suicide Club
"Night Theater hypnotized me, held me on the line between life and death, perfectly grotesque in its discussion of the body, perfectly heady in its depiction of the afterlife. Paralkar has created my favorite kind of story: morbid, magical, and enthralling." --Sarah Blake, author of Naamah
"Night Theater is mesmerizing, strange, and frightening. Paralkar masterfully captures the thrill and desperation of humanity's oldest struggle--to escape death itself." --Peng Shepherd, author of The Book of M
"Night Theater is astonishing--stark and luminous, nimble and tensile, powerful and propulsive in the moment, but also full of lingering wonder." --Leah Hager Cohen, author of Strangers and Cousins
"Magic realism is a difficult genre to pull off but Paralkar has managed to do so with aplomb." --Deccan Chronicle
"A book that delivers one hundred per cent in terms of thrill, drama, atmosphere and eeriness." --Financial Express
"Equal parts speculative fiction, medical drama and a philosophical treatise on death . . . Perceptive and absurdly humorous in ways I hadn't expected. By the time I reached its smashing final line, I was hoping Paralkar would resurrect the dead for a sequel." --The Hindu
"A beautifully fearsome meta-fiction on death, the dead and the living." --BusinessLine
Praise for The Afflictions
"Disease is made into something new and strange through the eyes of writer-scientist Vikram Paralkar . . . Paralkar shares with Borges a collector's delight in details." --Brenda Wang, The Believer
"Paralkar's tragicomic imagination, sly sendup of pseudo-Latinate medical prose and fine sense of irony make for an arresting read . . . A haunting take on the ills of flesh and soul." --Kirkus Reviews
"The beauty of The Afflictions comes from the fact that it is an unabashedly entertaining narrative that revels in weirdness and impossibility while also packing a much more profound layer in which Paralkar explores the frailty, failures, and absurdity of human nature . . . Vikram Paralkar is a talented author with a knack for the fantastic. He knows medicine, but it's his understanding of the relationship between diseases and the human mind and spirit that make The Afflictions a great read." --Gabino Iglesias, Atticus Review