A doctor’s religious doubt is shaken by a transplant patient’s eerie knowledge of his organ donor’s most intimate secret.
Doctors tend to the needs of their patients, but patients give meaning to the lives of their doctors. So it is for Cullen Brodie, a twice-divorced California nephrologist, and Ennis Willoughby, a troubled cross-dresser whose life is saved by a rare heart-and-kidney transplant.
Cullen’s bitter disbelief in the afterlife is tested when Ennis begins to exhibit tastes and characteristics uncannily similar to those of his female organ donor—whose first name Ennis inexplicably knows. When Ennis becomes convinced that the donor’s soul has inhabited him, Cullen sides with Ennis’s psychiatrist, who tells Ennis he has subconsciously confused his emerging transgender personality with the imagined characteristics of his female donor.
While his psychiatrist coaxes forth Ennis’s female side, Cullen is summoned to the South Pacific by an old lover for a reckoning of their past. On the island paradise of Rarotonga, he is forced to confront the heartrending truth about a tragedy that destroyed their college romance—a tragedy Cullen blames on religious zealotry.
Filled with resentment over what he has learned, Cullen returns to Southern California determined to shatter Ennis’s delusion of ensoulment. But Ennis’s eerie knowledge of his donor’s greatest secret forces Cullen to consider the unimaginable: Is it possible he is witness to a verifiable incident of transmigration, tangible proof of a human soul? Or is he witness instead to the miracle of being transgender? Male and female at once, the glory of one and the glory of the other, both shining—like a parrotfish, another miracle of nature, changing gender apace, beside its glorious, ever-changing hue.
Print Book Info
Perfect Bound / Softcover:
6.14 x 9.21 x 0.7423 (1.130 Lbs)
332 Pages (22/carton)
List Price: $16.95
"The Atheist and the Parrotfish is difficult to neatly categorize and changes its perspective in a delightful manner; much in the nature of the parrotfish in real life, whose development involves several dramatic changes in color.
For twice-divorced kidney specialist Cullen, this involves life-changing moves in his relationships with people and with God. Enter his cross-dressing transplant patient Ennis, who suddenly begins to exhibit the characteristics and persona of his female organ donor, displaying a knowledge only she could have known.
Suddenly Cullen's world is challenged by more than angst and alienation as it's presented with proof of a soul's existence and all the religious challenges and realizations that comes with such proof, leading Cullen himself to move from atheism to a form of parrotfish behavior at one of the biggest pivot points in his life.
As Ennis confronts his alternate transgender personality and inherited soul, he and Cullen move on parallel paths of self-discovery and catastrophic enlightenment that challenge any potential for peace and bring both to the crushing edge of insanity.
One striking aspect of Richard Barager's novel is its delicate ability to weave medical intrigue with the tone of a Robin Cook thriller into the bigger picture of social and religious inspection. His characters consider miracles, personal transformation, and sexual revelations as concurrent pieces of a process that stymies not just their personal growth, but the foundations of their set belief systems.
As events spiral beyond their control, readers are introduced to a questioning process that challenges them to consider the disparate paths of personal change and the possibilities of medical and religious realms intersecting in unusual ways. All these facets, especially the winding commentary on transgender identity and evidence of a soul, could easily have become confusing, especially when given an added shot of intrigue and the elements of a medical mystery; but under Barager's pen the logic of events and the evolution of personalities and new beliefs are impeccably drawn, and fascinating.
This is not to say that The Atheist and the Parrotfish is an undemanding read: in fact, it demands of its readers a level of flexibility that involves different considerations of God and medicine. Those who enjoy a mix of medical thriller, social inspection, and an ethical and moral conundrum will find this that The Atheist and the Parrotfish pairs all these elements with powerful psychological insights that lead readers to become unexpectedly moved by the plights affecting two very different lives.
The Atheist and the Parrotfish is especially recommended for readers of medical thrillers who demand an extra level of spiritual and moral inquiry from their fiction reading."
Cullen Brodie is a brilliant doctor and a kind-hearted person, but even saints carry darkness from their past in their hearts. An event in his youth caused Cullen to shut his mind to religion and spirituality. When he is tasked with transplanting the heart and kidney of the young and vibrant Carla into the body of Ennis, an old cross-dressing man, a spiritual journey is set in motion. Ennis emerges from his transplant operation claiming he's brought Carla with him. Cullen's entire belief system is shaken as he begins to question the nature of humanity and the possibility of souls. Told through Cullen and Ennis's alternating points of view, The Atheist and the Parrotfish tell of moral and ethical dilemmas, the nature of the body and soul, and the struggle of two very different men to accept conflicting aspects of themselves.
How can a man of medicine and science believe in God? Are organ donations ever "wasted" on people? What does cross-dressing have to do with Christianity? Richard Barager raises some difficult questions and is not afraid to get his hands dirty in an honest attempt to answer them. The rational but stubborn Cullen and the crass but lovable cross-dressing Ennis lend their eyes and minds to the reader as they tackle moral and ethical dilemmas head-on. Their large personalities don't fall too deeply into stereotypes as Barager represents both as realistically as possible. It's clear that the author built these characters up from a wealth of personal experience (for Cullen) and research (for Ennis), and the result side-steps away from what we're used to seeing. Ennis, in particular, offers depth to cross-dressing, his motivations, and how he faces society's reaction to his lifestyle. On this point, Barager hits the bull's-eye: Those who are open to Ennis's cross-dressing nature are often shown to be biased in their thoughts, even among other cross-dressers. This discrepancy opens a conversation about acceptance that continues through the book as a central theme.
The Atheist and the Parrotfish spends a good deal of time exploring the past, sinking deep into the backstories of both Cullen and Ennis. The book builds on the backstories of these two intriguing characters, painting them in full and vivid color. All this buildup creates a perfect platform for presenting the moral questions that the book hinges on. With such differing points of view, readers get to see both ends of the belief spectrum. Cullen is cynical while Ennis is spiritual—despite his lifestyle being apparently at odds with religious teachings. The questions faced by these two—and their wide supporting cast—hit on a number of big themes: the inner and outer struggle of being a cross-dressing man, a doctor's struggle to do his best even when the ethics are shaky, the idea of a soul carrying over into another body, even the ethics of abortion and whether organ recipients should have contact with their donors' families.
Through all this, one central question looms over the novel: the question of God. How can a benevolent God allow for bad things to happen? The book asserts that you have to take the good with the bad, though this conclusion is diminished when the book attempts to tie everything up a bit too neatly toward the end. Yet despite this fault, this well-written, gripping book is a deep dive into some intriguing dilemmas. Cullen and Ennis make their opinions clear, but the readers will be left wondering what their own stance is.
"Author Richard Barager certainly knows from whence he speaks in his novel The Atheist and the Parrotfish. Like his protagonist, Cullen Brodie, he is also a nephrologist, treating dialysis patients and kidney transplant recipients. It should be no surprise that, given the similarities between author and creation, Brodie is an entirely believable and deep character. What may be a bit surprising is the gentleness and honesty with which Barager paints the character of Ennis, the cross-dressing heart/kidney transplant recipient.
Being a transplant surgeon must be fraught with conflicting feelings. One person dies so another can have a new life. Imagine the intensity of these feelings when the surgeon knows the donor. Brodie, the atheist in the title, grapples with his own issues when it comes to religion but must accept that something altogether supernatural has occurred when Ennis begins to have feelings and cravings that are not his own but those of his donor, Carla, a young mother and wife. Brodie tries to reason his way through Ennis’s claims but in doing so must confront an event and people which have been haunting him for his entire adult life. Both Ennis and Brodie must learn to accept the past and move on in order to survive.
Though ultimately this is a story of one man’s conversion to Catholicism, it is not the kind of heavy-handed narrative one generally expects. Regardless of the reader’s religious persuasion, this novel will prove to be moving. When asked what doctors and authors have in common, Barager explained that both must understand the central character and that character’s story. This understanding is what makes this novel stand out. If the care that Barager shows in the creation of his characters is any indication of what kind of doctor he is, his patients must be truly lucky."
The instant one gets past the nearly bloodless clinical opening of The Atheist and the Parrotfish, a most surprising novel by Richard Barager about a doctor and his transgender patient, the relentlessly engaging storyline grabs you by the privates and refuses to let you go. Impressively, the plot is less about the vagaries of transgender longings and obstructions – still, a vital part of this complex story – than it is about organ transplants and the possible transmigration of the donor’s soul. Ennis (Elaine) Willoughby, the central character, who shares both male and female longings and affectations, requires and endures at the ripe old age of 63 a dual organ replacement for his kidney and his heart, ironically provided by a full-fledged woman prematurely dead, a fact he should not know with such specific knowledge, but also delivered in his dreams accompanied by her name, Carla, which he strictly is not allowed to know.
Ennis (Elaine) and now Carla are under the therapeutic care of a psychiatrist compassionate toward his/her sexual identification, but not at all toward his revelation of soul possession and manipulative transformation by the organs’ donor, and Doctor Cullen Brodie, the patient’s nephrologist, who simply does not believe in souls, much less, God. Thus we have The Atheist and the Parrotfish (a natural sexual chameleon) as imagined by the writer/weaver Richard Barager, intertwined despite their opposite beliefs. Lushly charactered with complicated souls, several more than those already mentioned, Barager’s exploration of human relationships, beliefs, and compulsions creates an interesting tapestry of human interaction and emotion, and culminates clearly with a conclusion highly satisfactory to the reader.
"Contradiction is a key narrative theme in this work. One story coiled within another builds while Barager slowly and masterfully weaves the two seemingly opposing accounts together. Chapters alternate between characters dealing with past and present situations, and scenes that include shocking, and at times, heart-stopping endings.
Pages are replete with rich descriptions of religious and ethical conundrums, philosophy, and theological ambiguities. The latter, readers may not recognize until much later in the story.
Rising author Richard Barager pulls from his daytime job experience as a nephrologist to create a gripping human-interest account packed with complex characters and spiritual paradoxes.
A fascinating story, The Atheist and the Parrotfish, which merges age-old spiritual questions with the latest in modern medicine, is replete with complex characters and riveting pages that brim with religious and ethical conundrums, making Richard Barager’s novel a thought-provoking top-of-the-line read."
"The Atheist and the Parrotfish by Richard Barager tells a complex, but compelling story probing some hardcore human issues. Atheism, transgenderism, guilt, death, relationships… It’s all there.
Underneath it all, question about God’s existence keeps on popping up.
Carefully crafted narrative weaves in scenes from Brodie’s past as well as Willoughby’s. Several other key characters are brought in, adding to the story’s complexity and brilliance. Unexpected twists and turns keep the reader riveted.
Barager, who is himself a nephrologist practicing in Southern California, employs a rich vocabulary, subtle imagery and a stunning knowledge of culture, including the arts, overseas societies and much more.
However, as well as a rich vocabulary, the author does not spare us from sexually charged content and crude language -- all of which serve to paint an authentic picture of the characters. Thus, the book would not be classified as “Christian” per se, and would not be a good fit for everyone.
The Atheist and the Parrotfish (Evolved Publishing, May 2017) is a fascinating, well-written read. In fact, it’s a page-turner from the get-go."
"The Atheist and the Parrotfish is one of the most unusual and original stories I’ve encountered in some time. ... The two plotlines follow two protagonists whose stories aren’t exactly parallel, although they overlap considerably as two men’s lives intertwine in important ways.
The author, Dr. Richard Barager, is a nephrologist and kidney specialist who integrated his medical knowledge and experience into a soap opera full of vivid descriptions. Every character, main and supporting, is fully sketched, many as graphically and erotically described as any characters in fiction. The main voices reveal deep and believable motivations. I must say, the conclusion comes off a bit rushed with a very surprising final chapter. Gratefully, Barager doesn’t provide all the answers but instead allows for multiple interpretations, both scientific and metaphysical. In fact, the author gives us a quiz after the text so we can critique our own responses to the book.
If his other titles provide the memorable characters and very unique situations of The Atheist and the Parrotfish, then Richard Barager merits both awards and a wide readership willing to take on books atypical of most genre fiction."