RaveWall Street JournalIt is a story that sounds all too familiar to audiences in 2020: physicians, public health scientists, and politicians know that an infectious disease has reached the United States but cannot decide whether the best course is to alarm the public or play down the threat of illness ... Ms. Fessler’s meticulously researched account illuminates the endless ways, large and small, in which those confined to Carville sought to determine the shape of their own lives ... Ms. Fessler’s final chapter is pointedly called \'Lessons Not Learned.\' She argues that \'the stigma of leprosy lives on,\' ... Though the two diseases could hardly be more different, one hopes that the larger lesson of Hansen’s disease—that scientific reasoning and compassion for the sick are better foundations for public policy than fear and neglect—reaches our debates about Covid-19 from the not-so-distant past.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalThis book’s best, most successfully prickly vignettes take place in the offices of doctors and therapists, where Ms. Harvey is blandly chastised again and again for her failure to self-actualize ... Some of these tangents are more fun to follow than others. I, for one, could do without another Anglophone writer expressing surprise at the different conceptions of time and space implicit in the linguistic structures of far-flung indigenous peoples. Such digressions usually simply reflect a writer’s personal dissatisfaction with the difficulty of understanding and being understood ... Various tricks sprinkled throughout the book remind us that the author is, after all, a fiction writer by trade ... I wish Ms. Harvey had dispensed with these self-deprecating intrusions, which feel like a failure of nerve. Their silliness defangs the real, insoluble trouble of how the fields of mental and physical health might actually speak honestly about insomnia, without academic defensiveness or condescension. More important, the surface cleverness of these little embellishments suggests that Ms. Harvey hasn’t quite gotten the message her own book proclaims so clearly: Knowingness saves no one, and attempting to defeat insomnia by a battle of wits may be like drowning out an ugly noise with an abundance of color.
Silvina Ocampo, Trans. by Suzanne Jill Levine and Katie Lateef-Jan
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksLevine is the daring translator of many of Latin America’s most formally inventive writer ... In her, Lateef-Jan’s, and Powell’s hands, Ocampo’s diction is clean and forthright, occasionally fusty like a school-prize essay, but reveals its wilder, more profligate heart in its lavish, extended syntax, its lists and peremptory qualifications, and stacking of event upon event ... Ocampo’s most admirable and maddening quality is her refusal to explicate ... She is a remarkably visual writer. The situations she composes—innocence corrupted; class status revealed or revoked; the external effects on the body of various foods, states of weather, varieties of poison and medicine—make for phenomenal tableaux. By drawing as carefully as possible only what is there without any causal inferences, Ocampo strings together discrete images of real life that together produce an effect entirely unreal and disorienting ... Ocampo’s work often has the antique quality of a half-lost fragment of myth, its moral missing or not fully translatable. Her prolific output...only contributes to this sense of a complete and foreign country underlying ours—perhaps more honest than our own in its refusal to impose causality or logic where they do not really exist.
Silvina Ocampo, Trans. by Suzanne Jill Levine and Jessica Powell
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksAt the start of The Promise, the basic plot would appear to be that a woman has fallen off a transatlantic liner unnoticed. If she can only keep recounting her memories to herself, perhaps she will keep up her strength and morale until she is rescued ... As The Promise goes on, however, even stranger intrusions and non sequiturs begin to make the reader suspect that the narrator—with her guilelessness that at first suggested an ingenue—is actually much older than one supposed, and that the place she is lost may not be the sea ... Passages from the opening pages...take on new meaning, no longer simply describing a self-effacing personality but revealing the isolation of the very old, frail, and dependent ... In short, though all the old stamps of Ocampo are there (a ghoulish mariticide, a dinner-party satire that skewers bourgeois self-regard like a scene from late Buñuel), she has arranged these components to suggest something about decomposition: together they form a theory of memory and its opposite ... The result is a bold phantasmagoria, marked by Ocampo’s insight that in extremis, delirium can be the highest form of truth.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... alternately workmanlike and exquisite ... The Leopard is both a reaction to a diagnosis, and a lifelong ambition. Mr. Price’s novel can be similarly hamfisted in showing Giuseppe working out certain problems of plot ... These kinds of one-to-one correspondences between the life and the resultant novel feel forced and risk reducing novel-writing to the plodding translation of one’s real life into a sort of code. In a moment of fleeting, intriguing strangeness, however, Mr. Price has Giuseppe speculate that perhaps the model for his hero is not himself but Alexandra—a pleasantly destabilizing surprise amid the meticulous matchiness elsewhere ... Far more successful are Mr. Price’s evocations of the subtle texture of lived experience ... These magnificent images, almost but not quite grotesque in their insistent corporeality, are so fine that one occasionally wishes Mr. Price had abandoned the anchor of the biographical Tomasi di Lampedusa and instead written the imagined life of a bookish but nameless Sicilian circa 1900 to 1960.
Maxim Osipov, Trans. by Alex Fleming and Anne Marie Jackson
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalAnyone looking for digestible morals for the clinician, or balms for the patient, need not read Maxim Osipov’s short-story collection Rock, Paper, Scissors. ... Little lies, shortcuts, elisions—put more generously, a little theater—color nearly every interaction ... In these stories, the borders between hope, delusion and dishonesty are hazy and heavily trafficked ... Dr. Osipov is a master of dramatic irony, wringing bittersweet humor from what the reader sees but the protagonist cannot ... As in the children’s game that gives the collection its title, Dr. Osipov shows how people dwarfed by institutions can make purposeful moves with nonetheless arbitrary outcomes. His characters sense the game and know the score. Their antics and soliloquies, however, do something to ease the long hours on the hospital wards and the sickness of lives that fail to change.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalAn Elegant Defense gives a thorough, richly entertaining and just-wonky-enough beginner’s class in immunology through the case studies of four patients ... These four tales help readers without prior scientific training tackle the alphabet soup of immunology ... Mr. Richtel also objects to the militaristic rhetoric surrounding the immune system ... Yet even Mr. Richtel can get caught up in a breathlessly martial style that runs the risk of both inaccuracy and bombast-fatigue ... It’s hard to disagree with Mr. Richtel’s sentiment, but cherry-picking teachable moments from biology is a dicey endeavor ... Mr. Richtel takes wide liberties with the stress-disease model ... Until we know more about how the immune system responds to...cues, past and present, dispensing warnings such as Mr. Richtel’s can be at best anxiety-provoking and at worst victim-blaming.
Joshua D. Mezrich
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal\"Dr. Mezrich’s book braids unflinching medical history with frank clinical memoir ... Dr. Mezrich is at his best in explaining—sometimes with deep reservations—why different organs have different rules and ethical norms.\
Arnold van de Laar, Trans. by Andy Brown
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalUnder the Knife (translated from the Dutch by Andy Brown) is full of startling, occasionally nauseating tales of slicing and stitching. Like many of the classical and medieval medical texts it cites, it can be read out of order or piecemeal, depending on one’s interests and tolerance for gore. Descriptions of tuberculous bone as \'Camembert-like\' and of the Sun King’s anal fistula are not for the faint of heart. But Dr. van de Laar can be quite funny, too, as when he describes the scene at the deathbed of Queen Caroline of England in 1737. As she lay dying due to surgical bungling, George II, \'sobbing and snivelling,\' promised that he would never marry again. With remarkable sang-froid, she urged him to reconsider. \'No,\' he blurted. \'I shall have mistresses.\' How selfless.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal\"His latest book is something of a \'Paradiso,\' pointing to the field’s brightest and noblest stars while recognizing just how much darkness is still left in the firmament ... Poignant and chattily erudite, Heart shuttles between scholarship and memoir to relate this continuing epic, the uneasy companionship between humans and our most metaphorized organ ... Where Heart shines is in charting another crucial shift that sounds like a throwback but might well be cardiology’s next wave: attending to the mind-body problem.\
MixedVICE...an ecstatic new book ... What's left for Charyn, then, is to outdo the competition in enthusiasm. In thematically arranged chapters describing the centers of her emotional world, from the family's maid, Margaret Maher, to Dickinson's dog, Carlo, the poet 'swaggers' and 'leaps,' tossing 'imperial fire.' Entranced digressions compare her to van Gogh for fearlessness, Joseph Cornell and his ballerina loves for ethereality, and the patients of Oliver Sacks in their rage for cosmic order. Charyn both insists on the likely inaccuracy of his biographical interpretations of her poems, yet offers them anyway: In this sense, he may be the perversely perfect critic for the poet.