Professor with a Pulse for Fiction

Brown professor Sattar Memon takes on big themes in his second novel


Back in India, Akbar was an ordinary young gardener. He didn’t seem like a violent extremist, the kind of fanatic who would sneak into the United States, build a homemade bomb, and try to blow up Wall Street. But that is exactly what he plans to do. His motivation: anti-Semitism.

This may sound like a Tom Clancy plot, but Soul’s Fury is the latest novel by Doctor Sattar Memon, a cancer specialist and professor of medicine at Brown University. The book is a thriller, complete with shotguns, kidnappings, and a harrowing car accident. But for Memon, the story is also a deeply personal rumination on culture clashes and human nature.

“I was born in India, in a secular Muslim family,” Memon says. “I really have to ask myself: Who am I? Am I Muslim? Am I a Jew? Am I Hindu? The answer is, I am nothing but a secular seeker. To me, all the religions are saying the same thing in different ways.”

Memon first explored these issues in The Ashram, a novel he self-published in 2005. This book introduced Memon’s flawed hero, Doctor Jonathan Kingsley, who tries to stop an Indian woman from burning herself alive on a funeral pyre. Doctor Kingsley returns in Soul’s Fury, this time to stop Akbar from hatching a massive terrorist plot.

“I write about the spiritual – of life, love, and death,” says Memon. “A lot of these issues are addressed in the dialogue. But this is not a preachy, how-to book. Intrigue is the soul of any good novel. Why is this guy saying this? What’s bothering him, and why?”

Memon is 70 years old, and he discovered fiction writing late in his career. But he’s had a lot of literary success in recent years. He hosts an informal writing workshop with some fellow physicians, and he plans to turn the Kingsley novels into a trilogy. The Ashram won a prize from Writer’s Digest for self-published novels, and a movie studio secured film rights to it.

On the surface, Doctor Kingsley is very different from Memon: he’s a depressed widower and struggles with alcohol, and he’s often entangled in global espionage. But Memon still draws heavily from his own life. Some real-world connections are obvious: both novels have distinct ties to his native India and star Indian characters, and medicine features prominently. Other inspirations are more subtle: Doctor Kingsley lives and works in Presque Isle, Maine, where Memon once helped establish an oncology clinic.

“I had never seen such a beautiful place,” Memon recalls. “I fell in love with it. I knew, in my first novel, my protagonist had to live there. Most writers dig into their own experience. That’s why I chose to make the protagonist a doctor.”

Given the suspenseful storyline and international canvas, Soul’s Fury might appeal to big New York publishers. But Memon prefers the control and efficiency of self-publishing.

“It’s very quick,” he says. “There are no fears of rejection. You can always re-submit. I’m not the wealthiest man, but I’m comfortable. Money is not my primary motive. But highlighting your creation – that is so satisfying.”