A neurosurgeon recollects his ascendency to academic and professional success from humble origins.
Debut author Robinson was born in 1945 in Plant City, Florida, a small town sharply segregated along racial lines, including the public school system. He also spent some of his childhood with his grandmother, who worked as a live-in maid on Davis Island in Tampa, a mostly white, affluent community, an experience that afforded the author a social proximity to a Caucasian family he might not have had otherwise. Despite his parents’ limited education—neither completed the seventh grade—he excelled in school, graduating from high school in 1964 and enrolling at the University of South Florida as one of its first black students. He attended during some of the most tumultuous years of the civil rights movement. Robinson met his future wife—he was 18 years old and she a mere 14 at the time—and the author postponed matriculating to the medical school at Howard University so she could finish high school and they could wed. Robinson joined the Army during medical school and was made an officer. After graduating, he joined a military neurosurgical training program at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the first African-American to do so. Later, after completing the program, he was assigned to South Korea and then to Hawaii, where he remained through his active military service and into private practice. The recurrent theme in Robinson’s memoir is the thorny issue of race, brought to the fore through the encounters he had with both discrimination and multiracial friendship. The author is philosophical about such an emotionally electric topic and admirably sensitive to the divergent perspectives of others. The prose, though, can be clunky and mechanical: “The glaring adverse data trend in my peer-to-peer popularity evaluation in the chiefs’ evaluation process led to my being removed as the neuroscience chief after more than eighteen years in that position.” However, his remembrance can also be emotionally affecting; Robinson’s account of his mother’s mysterious murder during the summer following his sixth-grade year is haunting.
A perspicacious meditation on race and achievement.