I picked this novel after hearing Dr. Verghese on the Diane Rheim Show on NPR and was impressed by his enthusiasm and idealism for the practice of medicine and the training of young physicians.
The plot has some refrains of the Kite Runner, also written by a physician. It follows the intertwined lives of two brothers from politically unstable Ethiopa to the United States. The language and imagery are lyrical in many places even in the description of surgical procedures and cadaver dissections.
It is not overstated to say that the novel does for Surgery and Medicine what Moby Dick did for whaling. The plot is interspersed with technical descriptions of nearly every aspect of medicine from the fine points of surgical anatomy to the process of medical residency certification. The finale of the book is far-fetched and is telegraphed, but in the context of the grand story, I suppose it is no more far-fetched than Ahab waving goodbye from the back of the White Whale.
The characters are compelling and complex -- particularly the namesake of the novel and the father of the narrator. One of the recurring themes of the book is the tension between the good life (i.e. love of family) and the good career (i.e. good works). This theme is carried from the Carmelite Nuns in Madras to the trauma and transplant surgeons in New York. No one seems to get it quite right except for Ghosh, the Indian/Ethiopian Internist who is the most attractive person in the book. I wonder if Dr. Verghese modeled him as a self-portrait.
I suspect that this book will not get the readership that it deserves because of the hefty length and hefty price. But it ought to reside on the bookshelf of everyone who aspires to go into medicine as a career -- right next to Arrowsmith and Aequinimitas.
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