Reviewed by Nilesh Mondal
Title: The Wounds of the Dead
Author: Vikram Paralkar
Publisher: Fourth Estate India (2017)
Pages: 224 (Hardcover)
The Wounds of the Dead is a book which takes risks with almost every element of its narration, and to a large part, makes it work in a way most of us wouldn’t expect. The biggest challenge it faces is the blending together of various genres, and it deftly manages to cross over from one to the other without breaking the flow of the story. Going from one chapter to the next, the narrative becomes a high-tension, tightly bound medical drama at some points and at others, a more relaxed treatise on spirituality. Although it becomes evident which are the high points of the book and which aren’t, the writer does a good job of keeping the margin relatively smaller.
I’ll admit to my initial scepticism when I began with the book. The story at first sounds deceptively simple: a doctor is forced by his circumstances to treat a family that shouldn’t be alive, but is. Probably the most interesting character in the book is that of the doctor, a typical veteran of medicine and melancholy, who tries his best to deal with his past as well as his frustration over being stuck in a land where he doesn’t belong. In doing so, he becomes the most relatable character in the entire mix, one who is dedicated to his trade but hates his job, and doesn’t shy away from unleashing the pent up frustration in his words for the simple minded villager. However, when trouble comes knocking, quite literally, he rises to the occasion, letting his kindness and compassion shine through his otherwise prevalent bitterness. In doing so, the doctor becomes a metaphor for humanity and of how trying times always bring out the best in us. In comparison, the rest of the characters are considerably less complicated and driven by straightforward motivations.
The relationships these characters share are pretty simple as well, with the notable exception of the doctor and his assistant. While these two people come from completely different societal classes, it is evident that they understand each other to a fault, and over the course of the story, we find them evolving from the roles of authority and its subordinate, to one of care and sympathy. It is for these very reasons that their relationship, in my opinion, forms the best and most interesting story arc in the book.
The book falters on some accounts. One is definitely the difference in pace of the different genres employed in the narration. While the parts about the doctor describing the operational procedures he subjects his patients to is crisp and fast and reveal an acute eye for detail, the parts about spirituality fall short of any such expectation. Whether it’s the discussions about an afterlife or conversations about morality and mortality, the narrative suffers sluggishness at some points, relying on clichés and a soothing tone which sounds overwhelmed with the effort to explain complicated theories in the simplest ways possible. Another issue is the ending, which leaves us with more questions than the book cares to answer and feels severely anti-climactic after the anticipation built up over the course of the story.
In conclusion, although the book falls short on some accounts, it still leaves its readers with some complex characters and a story as much about humanity as it is about the lack of the same. And while it raises some questions and answers them too, the most resonating question which is left unanswered at the end, and for good reasons, is whether death gives our lives meaning, or if it’s the other way round.
Nilesh Mondal, 24, is an engineer by choice and poet by chance. He is a writer for Terribly Tiny Tales and Thought Catalog, and has interned with Youth Ki Awaaz, Inklette and Moledro Magazine. His works have been published in magazines and journals like Cafe Dissensus, The Bombay Literary Review, Inklette, Coldnoon, Muse India, Eunoia Review and many more, and his first book of poetry, ‘Degrees of Separation’ came out in 2017 and debuted at #2 on the Amazon Bestseller List.