24 June, 2021

Live Specimens

The themes may be serious, this is ultimately a wonderfully comic first book, and one that will have readers eagerly awaiting his next.

Live Specimens

There is a war raging in the Institute of Theory and Research, Mumbai. Careers, reputations, the answer to life on earth, funds are at stake. There are those, like Jana Nambodri, who want to listen to alien signals using radio-telescopes. And there is Arvind Acharya, the head of the institute, whose life’s aim is to prove that alien lifeforms are falling to Earth by sending up balloons to collect air samples 41 km into the stratosphere.

The ‘serious men’ of Manu Joseph’s debut novel are scholars, Brahmins. Big men whose world is upturned by Ayyan Mani, a lower caste clerk, and Acharya’s personal assistant, Dr Oparna Goshmaulik, a beautiful woman who is head of astrobiology and, coincidentally, total babe. “She was an event”, “a commotion”, a head-turner.

It is clear from the outset that we’re in the hands of a masterful storyteller. Manu Joseph does not so much describe someone as nail them. Jana Nambodri is described as having “a long benevolent face that clever...

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