Who are we? Who are the people we love? These are the questions that confront the readers in Alfredo Bioy Casares’ Asleep in the Sun. At first, I expected to read the novel by the Argentine writer first and foremost as science fiction but later on changed my mind: it is a love story, albeit a strange one.*
Asleep in the Sun presents the readers with a grotesque scenario of a man living the ordinary life who had another consciousness occupying the body of his wife, without his knowledge, because of experiments by sinister scientists.
The narrative immediately leads us to tackle issues of identity, the main point being, of course, is that we love our love ones in spite of their shortcomings: yes, this woman is much more agreeable and less ill-tempered but is this really the person I love? We encounter the man question himself about this again and again in the novel.
He later takes a stand to find the soul, for the lack of a better term, of his real wife but by then it would be too late for the scheme to populate his neighborhood with people whose consciousness had been exchanged for that of dogs has come to a head.
The novel, in its subtle way, also takes a swipe at the modern era’s obsession with synthetic medicines, the clinic, and the psychiatric establishment where every ailment can be cured by taking some pill or undergoing an operation and where every behavior that stands out from the rest is diagnosed as abnormal.
Everywhere in the novel is the same humorous and self-depreciating tone of a narrator who is plunged into an air of menace and uncertainty. So engrossing was this mix of social critique and examination of minute details of love that I read it in less than a day. ■
* Which is quite redundant since lots of science fiction are love stories!