Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Physician

I've been absent from this blog for awhile, traveling, but I'm back now and I want to tell you about this book I read recently.  It made for great reading on the long train ride to Montreal - 11 hours each way.  Reading it on my Kindle, I had no page numbers and no idea how long it was, or when it was published, but I found out afterward it is 720 pages long and was published 26 years ago!   I guess I like to quantify things, and sometimes the Kindle makes that difficult.

This is a good book.  What makes it good?  The characters are real and I care about them.  They are multi-dimensional, with some identifying characteristics, but not too predictable.  But what I like most about the book is the setting.  As I teach my Literature students, there are many components to fiction but five of the prominent elements are plot, characters, setting, tone and theme.  To me, in this book the setting is almost the most important character.  It takes place in 1025 or so, when barbers were also surgeons.  The main character is orphaned at the age of 9, and is apprenticed to a barber-surgeon.  After his mentor dies, he decides to travel from England to Persia (current Iran) passing himself as a Jew, to enter the esteemed school for physicians there, run by Muslim physicians.  Religion plays an important role in the book, and the author incorporates many details about Judaism and Islam, and some details about Catholicism.

The author admits that while there is indeed some historical basis for story and setting in the book, much of the "historical" aspects are purely fictional, but he manages to evoke such a sense of time and place that it indeed feels real.  It is a bit raw in places, but overall a very enjoyable read.

As I read it, I was thinking about the role of history in historical fiction, and the dilemma authors face deciding what to include.  More on this in my next blog.


  1. Christina Victor-BandyopadhyayAugust 16, 2012 at 10:22 PM

    I see that this book did not sell very well in the US but has been a best seller in Europe!

    Also knowing how well you like England and Jane Austen, looks like you have European sensibilities.

    Do you have European publishers among your 4?

  2. Thanks for following me Christina! Yes, I do tend to like British and Irish books best, and am not really very familiar with a lot of American literature. I am sending my manuscript to a few British publishers, and my sister will attend a global book convention in Frankfurt in October. She is taking a synopsis of my book to try to find any interested publishers!