A collection of elegant and engrossing essays on the theme of birth.
González-Crussi (Emeritus, Pathology/Northwestern Univ. Medical School; Suspended Animation, 1995, etc.) blends literature and science, philosophy and religion, history and myth into his own unique meditations. Beginning at the beginning, he opens with reflections on the origins of life and the invention of sexual reproduction, and as is his wont, moves seamlessly from laboratory to library, drawing on 20th-century physiologists, Renaissance artists, and Greek philosophers. When next he considers the male obsession with female purity, he takes the reader to Egypt, said to be the Arab world’s hymen-repair center, a growing business in a culture where loss of virginity has led to the murder of women by their male relatives. Following essays take up the uterus, offering both solid facts and preposterous myths about the womb; fanciful notions about procreation; and erroneous beliefs about the transmission of maternal impressions to the developing fetus. González-Crussi draws on his own delivery-room experiences in his discussion of placental membranes, or cauls, and their purported miraculous powers. One of the delights of reading González-Crussi is his astonishing erudition: His essay on the age-old role of midwives and their displacement by male doctors with the resultant transfer of deliveries from traditional home care to high-tech hospitals contains a startling story about the treachery of midwives taken from Diderot’s Grande Encyclopedie. He ends on a somber note, expressing misgivings about the uses of reproductive technology and warning that “we know not where we are going or even where we should go.”
Entertaining and enlightening.