As Máximo soon discovers, medicine at the Central Library may be more than he bargained for.
The Afflictions is a magical compendium of pseudo-diseases, an encyclopedia of archaic medicine written by a contemporary physician and scientist. Little by little, these bizarre and mystical afflictions frame an eternal struggle: between human desire and the limits of bodily existence.
You can detect two distinct influences on this collection. Firstly there is Vikram Paralkar's profession and calling asJorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, José Saramago, and Franz Kafka. I would have said that the influence of the first three writers is the most obvious.
This is a clever, entertaining and thought-provoking book. It may be short - only 147 pages - but the descriptions of illnesses merit concentrated reading. The reader should read each description, and then sit back and ponder it, because each disease raises philosophical and ethical questions. For example Immortalitas diabolica grants its victims the ability to will away every pain, but it transfers their afflictions to other people and Vulnus morale or the Moral Wound expands or decreases according to the sufferer's bad or good deeds. Some stories focus on illnesses that impact on the individual, others on illnesses that impact on society.
The setting is archetypal and unspecified - an old monastery in some Catholic country at some unspecified time. I would have liked more made of that. The book is narrated by the old librarian who is speaking to Maximo. Through this narrative we gain some information about Maximo, but only enough to make the reader want to know more. If you are looking for a storyline, you will be disappointed.
In researching this review I found myself giggling at Paralkar's Twitter feed. Paralkar's writing style is reflected in both this book and the Twitter feed: dry and witty, and not wasting a letter, let alone a word.
This book is recommended to anyone who enjoys Borges, Calvino or Saramago.
I received this book from the publisher in return for a fair review.