It was hard to forget the account of parasitologist Arthur Looss pouring hookworm culture over a boy’s still warm amputated leg, or of the African infested with nematodes who has to ‘wheel his scrotum around in a wheelbarrow’. An Egyptian girl has a yard of ‘spaghetti-thick’ Guinea worm emerging from her arm, wound gingerly around a twig. In the Australian outback, Missus Murphy’s phantom pregnancy proves to be a cyst of tapeworm tips weighing all of eighteen pounds. Well, you get the idea. In his saga of trysts and cysts, exploding buboes, chiggers, leeches, defecation and ingestion, Kaplan keeps his already pullulating narrative constantly on the move with personal anecdotes attesting to his unquenchable enthusiasm. We see him chasing escaped cockroaches, embarking on a seagull cull, and hunting the Brooklyn mudflats as a boy, where couples making out in their automobiles were said to be ‘watching the submarine races’. But it is the biological drama of his subject that enthrals him. Of the canine tapeworm, he notes: ‘The proglottids are tapered at each end into a lovely chain that I have seen imitated in jewellery’ (I bet Mrs K can’t wait for her birthdays); and of land snails, that they ‘eat the egg-laden faeces with the leaf like caviar on crackers’. Dissecting a frog, he admires ‘huge, ciliated protozoans regally gliding along in the rectal fluid like motile, translucent leaves’.
more from David Profumo at Literary Review here.