I picked up The Calcutta Chromosome after a friend recommended it. I had no idea what the book was about when I started reading it, which turned out to be a good thing because I was pleasantly surprised with what the book offered.
Calcutta Chromosome is, simply put, a sci-fi book. It is about a man’s quest for finding the truth – the truth behind the cause of malaria and the research that went behind it. The book starts with a man, Antar, working on his super smart computer, Ava, and finding an ID card on screen which belonged to a person he knew. The ID brings back memories and Antar’s curiosity leads him to the person’s file and Antar realizes that the person, Murugan, has been missing since many years. Antar recalls that Murugan had been obsessed with malaria and its cause and the scientist who found the cause, Ronald Ross. Murugan’s theory is that Ross did not find the cause on his own, but was guided to the right path by certain forces around him. Murugan’s quest brings him to Calcutta, the place where Ross made his dicover from where he goes missing.
The story switches places and periods to tell us stories that have are connected to Murugan’s story. We go back to that period when Ross was doing the research and even before that when Cunningham was attempting the same thing. There are a lot of characters and the story moves back and forth and sometimes there is a story within a story and another within it and it got confusing for me.
The main plot is very interesting – to suggest that someone wanted Ross to identify the cause of malaria in order to hide some other bigger secret. Ghosh adds a touch of Hindu background to the sci-fi story by bringing in a character who is seen as ‘God woman’ and adding incidents of puja and shrine and festivals and reincarnations. He even gives a glimpse of a ghost – trains appearing out of no where and tracks being changed automatically. I thought this part was silly.
In the end, all the characters in the book are involved in the story somehow and we have this long chain of events happening over centuries and the characters spread across places and periods and we don’t know what the heck is happening. The worst part is the book ended so abruptly that I wanted to kick the author. It’s good to end the book on suspense and let the reader interpret the ending in his own way, but what Ghosh did with this book was more like mocking the reader.
The characters are poorly developed, which is often the case in sci-fi. You concentrate on the plot and the story rather than create believable characters.
This was my first Ghosh book and it left a sour taste in my mouth. And I don’t know whether I really want to read another Ghosh book. If you have read Ghosh, then which book would you recommend I pick next?