Lanternfish Press

Rare & Strange

Catching up with Vikram Paralkar, Author of The Afflictions

InterviewsAmanda Thomas

It has been two years since we published The Afflictions (time flies!), so we decided it was a good time to catch up with the author, Vikram Paralkar. 

For our readers who haven't met you yet, tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born and raised in Mumbai, and lived there until the age of 24. I moved to Philadelphia in 2005, and am currently a physician-scientist at the University of Pennsylvania. Literature has been a passion for me since my teenage years, when the works of Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges and Vladimir Nabokov introduced me to the power of words and ideas. The Afflictions is my first book, and it was wonderful to publish it with Lanternfish Press back in 2014.

It's been two years since The Afflictions was published, what's new in your writing life since then?

I have completed a novel The Wounds of the Dead, the protagonist of which is a misanthropic surgeon in rural India who is asked to operate on the dead to return them to life. My literary agent is currently looking for a publisher for the novel. I have also written some short stories during this time, one of which features a series of episodes in which the Hindu deity Vishnu appears at various scenes of inequity in modern-day Mumbai.

We hear that The Afflictions is being translated into both Spanish and Italian! Tell us more about that.

Soon after The Afflictions was published by Lanternfish Press, it caught the attention (through an blog entry) of Diego D’Onofrio, the editor of La Bestia Equilatera, a fantastic publishing house in Buenos Aires, Argentina. They got a translator (Laura Wittner) to translate it into Spanish, and it was released in July 2016. Though my literary agent, I have also signed a contact with Bompiani, a prominent Italian press that has been the publisher of the late, great Umberto Eco. That manuscript will be released sometime within the next year.

Readers are always curious about how writers do their work. Tell us more about how you write. What's your process? Where do you get your inspiration?

The ‘Process’ question is easier to answer - I compose all my writing on my iMac, at my desk (No romance-of-pen-and-paper-in-a-pastoral-field for me!). Music plays a very important role in my editing process. I might pick a particular piece that (in my imagination) matches the literary “texture” that I’m trying to convey through my writing at that moment, and then I “weigh” the words against the music, and sculpt them accordingly.

The "Inspiration” question is much more difficult - both Calvino and Borges are obvious influences for The Afflictions, but, beyond that, what I write is a complicated amalgam of sources that I couldn’t tease out if I tried.

We've heard that you recently put out a scientific paper too (congrats!). Tell us more about your day job. How does your career intersect with your writing?

In my day job, I am a physician-scientist - a specialist in leukemia. I treat patients with acute and chronic leukemia, and I conduct research into the way in which normal blood cells develop, and how they sometimes turn cancerous. In April 2016, I published a research paper in the journal Molecular Cell dissecting how a class of RNAs known as “long noncoding RNAs” regulate genes. I find my research immensely enriching, because it involves asking fundamental questions about biology. In school, I used to be the kid who spent my summer vacations doing scientific experiments with the tools available to me - magnets, baking soda, potato batteries. Now, as an adult, a career in science allows me to ask questions about the world that no other human may ever have asked. It’s an immense privilege to have that opportunity. So far, my writing career has clearly been influenced by my medical training. For instance, ‘The Afflictions’ harnessed the idiom of the medical vignette to explore questions about identity, exile, language and desire. ‘The Wounds of the Dead’ is heavy with medical language and surgical detail. In some ways, literature has as its main subject the same thing as medicine - the human animal. The tools and approaches are different, but they seek to dissect the same beast.