There’s been a rather long tradition of medical people in literature. One thinks of William Carlos Williams, Anton Chekov, Daniel Mason (The Piano Tuner), and doubtless more that I don’t recall or don’t know about. Sanjay Nigan does not quite belong in that rank of the distinguished aforementioned, though there’s much to compliment about Transplanted Man.
The title operates on two levels. There is a character whom we know as Transplanted Man because he has had virtually every internal organ replaced over the years. The cause of his serial organ failure has not been discovered, but he has risen to such celebrity and success in Indian politics that there is never a thought of refusing or delaying the next replacement or stinting on his care. On the other level, the story is set in NYC’s Little India among people who have immigrated from India, whose relatives have immigrated from, or whose ancestry gives them a strong identity with India as their motherland. So, everyone in the book in some way, to some measure, has been transplanted from India to the USA. Thus, we have, obviously, a book about identity, about people struggling with how their geographic place on the planet coincides with their internal cultural and psychological map.
Our protagonist is a resident at a large NYC hospital who is a gifted practitioner but an emotionally stunted individual whose fatherless childhood and unaffectionate mother have left him paralyzed in the personal relationship department. The hospital becomes the site for the comings and goings of a large cast of screwy characters and situations that skim dangerously close to TV situation soaps such as Grey’s Anatomy and ER. There’s a man who bites his wife’s buttock while she’s sleeping. That makes for quite a relationship story. There’s also a man who for penance bites into his own tongue deep enough to require stitches.There’s the hoary situation of a man suffering a mid-coitus heart attack with his mistress. Wife and lover face and attack one another at the comatose philanderer’s bedside. There’s a completely original character called Hypokinetic Man, a guy who has a disorder that causes him literally to inch his way through life so slowly that one has to look closely to tell that he’s moving. His unapparent responses and silence make him a repository of a number of confessions. I suppose there’s some significance to the fact that the title character and this one are given titles a la comic book personages rather than real names. There’s also a guru, who becomes a guru despite himself because no one in the community will attend his real calling–that of a psychotherapist. It all amounts to a great setup, but I found the book rather unsatisfying in the end. Perhaps a clue to the reason might be Nigam’s statement in the acknowledgments that one Julia Serebrinsky somehow found a novel in the six-hundred plus pages of the small-type-narrow-margin manuscript he brought her. It has a feeling of disunity to me, as if someone picked a little here, a little there, montaged the thing and put it between covers. Yet, it seems that Publisher’s Weekly chose Transplanted Man as the best book of 2002. So who am I? Chopped curry, I guess. Nevertheless, here’s my first introduction of the little man and his reaction that sums up the 1000 or so words above.