Author: Erich Segal
Bookhad Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
A real physician almost never seeks another doctor’s help. For they all are painfully aware of just how little anybody understands about curing the sick.
When I read The Class (which is awesome, by the way) a few years ago I was a little shocked that a 500 page book dealing with an account of students pursuing their degrees and doctorates in a world renown institution would hold me so glued to it, that I’d come to love and respect the author with unparalleled devotion. But that time, I hadn’t read Doctors. Doctors is a 675 page fictional account of a few students of the Harvard Medical School of 1958.
One half of the ownership of Bookhad is a grand fan of Segal’s writings and the other, not so much. The half that adores Segal is sure that there are very few storytellers that would equal the brilliance of his sure shot penmanship that deals with emotions with the ease that is unequal in the literary world.
Barney Livingstone and Laura Castellano are the two main protagonists among the few whose lives we follow in their respective journeys; from entering Harvard Med till they reach maturity in terms of moral platitudes, professional expertise or finally finding their true love. Barney and Laura know each other since the age of 5. Their friendship keeps getting stronger with time and despite the distances in their lives they still manage to be each other’s shoulders.
In very basic terms, I can easily slot Doctors as a romance and a (sort of) coming of Age novel, but that would be a gigantic mistake on my part. Firstly, it is not only about love and how the upkeep of it is difficult because career and other Mills and Boon crap. The fact that it really might be just that, but doesn’t feel like, is because Segal keeps his writing clever and non-cheesy. There are enough innuendos about high school romance and sex, but like all great romances, it is the writing that makes the difference. Secondly, the book follows the characters and their lives well beyond coming of age. The actors in this parable of moralistic and conscientious battle of wills mature and wisen up with tear inducing scenes that make the most accomplished of readers go dabbing at their eyes.
Doctors is about Barney Livingstone who has lived his life adoring his father who went to war when he was a kid and returned a changed man. He wants to go to Harvard Med to become a Psychologist primarily of two reasons. One, he has immense respect for Luis Castellano, Laura’s father and next door neighbour. Two, because he had seen how a doctor had flung the Hippocratic Oath out the window and brought shame to the name of Doctors.
Laura, on the other hand, reasons to get into neonatal care has arisen due to being all but rejected by her mother after her little sister’s death. Survivor’s guilt and what not. The good looks and the admirable fighting spirit of Laura is counter productive as the patriarchal attitude of the male dominated fraternity is unable to get beyond her good looks. Of course, her hard work pays off and she, along with Barney and the other, do get a piece of pie that they’re looking out for.
Apart from these two characters that made this book a sombre, bittersweet memoir of doctors were Bennet Landsmann and Seth Lazarus. There were a few others, but the volume of Segal’s masterpiece is filled with Seths and Bennets.
Seth Lazarus is a simple and a soft spoken doctor whose level of compassion insidiously leads him into the courtrooms indirectly defending his argument of a life without pain and the right to let go if the pain gets unbearable. Yes, Segal justifies, within the very narrow walls of demarcated narratives, the idea of Euthanasia.
Bennet’s life is more dramatic than almost all of his class. The son of an officer in the Nazi Germany, he is raised by Jews he was raised by Jewish parents who were freed from a Nazi concentration camp by Landsman’s father who dies. He is the richest among the class with a history of pain behind him. His colour makes his life an unending rollercoaster of tests and challenges.
In one of the best scenes of the book, Bennet takes charge of a situation in a restaurant which, under ordinary circumstances, should’ve put his name in the hallowed halls of geniuses, but his skin colour becomes his bane and this life turns turtles and he is again left to fight a lone battle.
Barney and Laura along with Seth Lazarus and Bennet Landsmann are the Doctors.
Doctors is a book that has a little of everything. From the Spanish War to the Second World War; from Vietnam to the discovery of drugs that revolutionises the very fabric of medical practices. Doctors is one of my favourite medical fictions because of the multi pronged storyline. It has history and drama drenched in romance and racial profiling. It has an advocate of Euthanasia and a lawyer strong enough to defend it. It has a psychiatrist who has seen his father die a little right in front of his eyes. It has easy dialogues and smooth narratives.
Doctors is a book that I can always re-read given the time. Erich Segal is a writer who knows what’ll exactly sell his book. He’s a writer who’ll make you cry with his poignant prose and powerful imagery. He’ll just as easily make you laugh. The best aspect of his writing is the deep metaphors that he derives from humans themselves. He writes and seams the narration tightly using humans and emotions as his thread that leave a long lasting impression upon the reader.