Reviewed by Steven LaVigne
A vampire story should envelope the reader, transplanting them into another dimension as it casts a spell. Michael McColly’s The After-Death Room is vampiric in the Bram Stoker manner. Constructed of diary and journal entries, HIV is McColly’s vampire, and the experiences of those afflicted with the virus are its victims. It weaves its own spell as it accomplishes McColly’s basic goal: to document the lives of those who are surviving without the benefit of modern medicine and health care.
Living with HIV himself, McColly is a bisexual journalist and instructor of Kundalini Yoga, who once attended divinity school. Following his experiences at an International AIDS Conference in South Africa, he began traveling the third world, and parts of the United States, interviewing and teaching Yoga. From Africa to Thailand to India to Viet Nam, he reveals a much deeper crisis than we ever imagined.
He frequently observes for example, how the body either traps or frees the soul, as it does with sex workers, both male and female. Among the more vivid and memorable personalities in The After-Death Room (and there are too many to write about) are Andre, whom he encounters in a Cape Town dance club. Using make-up to cover the Kaposi’s sarcoma scars, he’s survived beatings and stabbings, while trying to survive following his lover’s death; the family of Sekar, whom McColly meets in Chennai, India, was shunned because of his HIV status, but he boldly cam out, enduring hardships to address various groups about the disease.
Finding it ironic that he’s teaching yoga to the Brahma and those who invented the practice, he discusses the facts on the disease in an overpopulated country where the health system has been overextended, due largely to political pressures. The family and duty to them are always first, thus, thousands are succumbing to AIDS daily. On this note, we learn from Dr. Yepthorani, that fears about the disease has kept people from fulfilling these family duties. A relationship increases peoples’ survival rates, but even this doctor can’t reveal his own status unless he’s certain that it will help his patients.
McColly addresses the shocking disclosure that a pair of doctors in Thailand claim that they’ve not only found a cure, but also an immunization with the V-1 Immunitor, examining its validity.
I realized that I’ve barely begun to discuss the extraordinary evidence revealed in The After-Death Room, but I assure you, it is a spell-binding journey.
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The After-Death Room won a 2007 Lambda Literary Award after we went to press.