Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Amitav Ghosh's "The Calcutta Chromosome" (novel, immortality)

Cover of the novel The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh. Image shows a fish, perhaps referring to a rotten fish in the story that sets a woman journalist protagonist on her strange quest.This was disappointing in a way that many bestsellers are - quick page turner, great mystery build up, some interesting characters, but a dull ending. Ending was very confusing, & for a story that is mostly quite logical, there is an ghost story as one of the chapters!

A note for Indian readers: I picked up the story seeing an Indian author's name on cover. But while reading, I kept getting the impression that it's primarily targeted at western audiences, even though much of the story is set in Calcutta.

Story summary.

Story starts off with a historical fact - Ronald Ross, an Englishman born in India who made a medical discovery that won him a Nobel prize: that malaria is transmitted to humans via mosquitoes. Most of his research was done as a colonial officer in India, last part of it in Calcutta.

The story treats this medical discovery as part of a conspiracy. There is a secret sect of "Silence" worshipers in India who've already discovered some things about malaria & mosquitoes. But their main interest is immortality: there is a generally unknown human chromosome, the "Calcutta chromosome", that is found only in brain cells & that encodes whatever makes you you.

And these guys are trying to figure out a way of transmitting this identity so you can continue living in another body by consciously infecting that body (with a variant of malaria). And they kept nudging Ross in the right direction at critical points because, unknowingly, he was solving one of their immortality problems.

Fact sheet.

First published: 1995.
Rating: B.