With three critically acclaimed novels and one collection of stories behind him, Kunal Basu is what politicians call a ‘seasoned campaigner’. It shows in his new novel, The Yellow Emperor’s Cure. The novel starts with a bang, right in the middle of a festa in Lisbon in the year 1898, when the brilliant, philandering surgeon and highly eligible bachelor, Antonio Maria, is called away to his ailing father’s bedside. And from there it proceeds at a fast pace.
A shocking discovery meets Antonio: his beloved father is dying of syphilis, the incurable scourge of Europe in those days. Determined to find a cure and influenced by the realisation that a shipload of Chinese sailors does not contain even one case of syphilis, Antonio sets sail for Peking to study under the renowned and imperial Dr Xu. There he encounters Dr Xu’s disciple, an alluring woman called Fumi, who becomes his teacher in more ways than one. In the background rages the Boxer Rebellion—the first (and bloody) Chinese mass uprising against colonial domination and westernisation. Struggling with his own prejudices against ‘irrational’ Chinese views about disease, Antonio is finally faced with the choice of abandoning Fumi, for his own safety, or staying in China to find out more about Fumi and the Yellow Emperor’s cure.
A love story set on a lavish scale, Basu’s novel is a visual delight and a gripping read.