November 2004: George W. Bush is re-elected. Five days later, Alan Meister, a New York professor of philosophy, is diagnosed with lymphoma—not that he can prove the two are connected. While coping with the rigors of chemotherapy, Alan begins work on a long-postponed book titled The Health of a Sick Man, arguing that the core of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical thought was a decades-long attempt to cope with his lifelong incapacities—his blinding headaches, upset stomach, weak vision, and all-around frailty, not least his vexed relations with women. As Alan’s treatment proceeds, he finds relief by imagining Nietzsche not as a historical figure, but as a character in his daily life, a reminder that his own heart continues to beat.
Rooted in the author’s personal experience with lymphoma, this novel is a compound of reminiscences, aphorisms, anecdotes, and encounters: with Alan’s errant daughter Natasha, who has returned home to help care for him; with mortal friends; with a mysterious hospital roommate; with students; with contemporary life as it reaches him through the newspapers and his readings. Steady, spare, and often bracingly funny, Undying cries out in a robust voice: I am.