SHEDDING LIFE by Miroslav Holub

SHEDDING LIFE

Disease, Politics, and Other Human Conditions
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Add a new voice to the medical-literary essay genre: Holub is a Czech immunologist and poet, distinguished in both fields. In this first collection of short essays, he reveals a mind wise in the ways of the world, passionate in the pursuit of truth, and bitter at the fate of his country in WW II and the Russian aftermath. Each of the three main sections--``Angels of Disease,'' ``Troubles on Spaceship Earth'' and ``No''--is preceded by a short poem. These and poems found in selected essays set a dark tone to the volume: Life is a struggle, nature is never pure or benign, politics can be poisonous. Withal, there is a zest for science and pleasure in recounting his own discoveries about the transformation of white blood cells in their multiple roles in defending the body. That essay, ``The Discovery: An Autopsy,'' probes the nature of discovery in general, concluding that the term ``intuition'' does not do justice to the process by which ``something emerges that has been covered over and has remained beneath the surface, beneath consciousness.'' The volume starts with an arresting essay on the nature of health, asserting that it is not the ``absence of disease''; indeed, we who are alive today are the survivors of countless generations' combats with plagues and other morbid and mortal diseases. The final section is the most politically sensitive, concluding with an essay that stresses the importance of saying--or, more importantly, acting--``no'' in defiance of evil authority. Yes, there are lighter pieces--a charming essay on how Holub passed his medical qualifying exams by hypothesizing on how the Czech king Ladislaus died in the 15th century, and a wry commentary on minipigs, imported for laboratory use, that ended up as maxipigs that went to market. But overall, the essays are grave excursions on matters of life and death, truth and falsity, by one who has endured life in Eastern Europe and, because he is a scientist, retains a belief that progress is possible.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 1-57131-217-X
Page count: 280pp
Publisher: Milkweed
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1997