by Abraham Verghese
We all have dreams, call them fantasies, of what we would wish to be or wish to do. Some would like to swim like Michael Phelps, or take an NFL team down the field like Aaron Rodgers, or enchant millions of people with a voice like Pavarotti, or hypnotize audiences, in front of celluloid screens, like Meryl Streep. I, would like to write like Abraham Verghese, not in the syntactical sense of course, but in the emotive sense; to take the reader on a journey: to have the reader take a giant breath and go under, swimming down into another world filled with foreign sights and smells assaulting the senses that overwhelm in their beauty and complexity of story, pulling you deeper, luring you into dark recesses that lead to grottos of translucent bluish-white light glittering off of sandy bottoms, until your diaphragm begins contracting and you are forced to surface, reluctantly, your head breaking the surface with a spray of water and your only thought being to breath and dive down again. Unfortunately, there is not the comfort of a physical impossibility separating me from Dr. Verhese; and I cannot help but feel like Salieri in Amadeus, who has the intellect to appreciate the genius of Mozart and feels frustration in the recognition of his own mediocrity; and I am reminded of the scene where he’s being wheeled down a hall, demented and crazy, blessing those he is passing, saying, “I absolve you, all you champions of mediocrity.”
Much of my fascination with the novel is the medical part of it, which is accented by the large role played by my chosen specialty of Surgery. I enjoyed the common aphorisms, many of the familiar, but some not, such as the 13th commandment, “thou shalt not operate on the day of a patient’s death.” And another aphorism of Thomas Stone, which is so true: “when the abdomen is open, you control the abdomen, but, when you close the abdomen, it controls you.”
I enjoyed the undercurrent of faith throughout the book, and the interconnectedness of the story that if I wrote about would diminish the impact for the reader not yet exposed to this wonderful work. God, missionary medicine, forbidden love, betrayal, emperors, war, disease, doctors, nurses, nuns, redemption, miracles; what a piece of work.
I read this book when it first came out, and when George, the member of my book club who suggested it, sent out the group email to fellow members, I didn’t say a word because it gave me a reason to read it a second time.