A Surgeon’s Chronicle of War and Medicine
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A surgeon’s graphic report on frontline medical work in one war-torn landscape of misery after another.

The author has a steady voice, unflinching before all he has seen, but he spurns the sonorous, often spurious authority many surgeons assume. By contrast, Kaplan is willing to admit doubts and failure. He practices under traumatic circumstances in the immediacy of combat, which entails a seat-of-the-pants operation. He often works with a pack of rogue surgeons willing to travel to places where other, better-known, better-funded medical organizations refuse to go for fear of political or ethical complexities. Burma, for example, certainly presents a morally ambiguous situation: the brutal government is waging war against a druglord who has declared the Shan Free State; there are no good guys, but lots of injured people. After recounting his medical training in England and the US, Kaplan narrates his return to his native South Africa, where he quickly became involved caring for the wounded in Namibia and Zululand. He found professional fulfillment and a heightened sense of humanity in the presence of brutality and pain, a paradox he still lives with. Chronicling his work in places like Eritrea and Kurdistan, Kaplan not only describes the operating theater but also tries to make sense of the political theater (often enough a tragically absurd one) that gave rise to these conflicts. At one point, he sought a break from the misery and frustrations by becoming a cruise ship’s on-board doctor, a gig that turned out to pose the greatest threat to his professional integrity. So it was back to the front, where on a bad day, “through my palms and fingers I felt him die.” Despite his revulsion at the largely preventable suffering, Kaplan maintains his commitment to healing human beings who may someday do better. Readers can only be grateful that anyone should take such responsibility.

Remarkable and God-awful.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-8021-1707-4
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2001


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