THE PHYSICIAN by Noah Gordon


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Here, Gordon (The Rabbi, The Death Committee, The Jerusalem Diamond) spins a colorful if not especially compelling tale set in 11th-century England and Persia. Rob Cote is orphaned in the London of King Canute's time; he sees his mother die while she gives birth in a stable, and his impotent rage at this loss is the first spur to his passionate desire to become a healer. He is apprenticed to a barber-surgeon, a mountainous man who's by turns actor, magician, healer, and snake-oil salesman. Rob grows through a turbulent but instructive adolescence in which he discovers his near-magical gift for sensing through touch a patient's fundamental condition; he can tell whether a patient is going to live or die. During these years, Rob also sees the ignorance and superstition surrounding the practice of medicine in England. Thus, when the barber-surgeon dies, Rob decides to follow his calling and travel to Persia, where he has heard that the legendary doctor Ibn Sina (Avicenna) teaches medicine. But Christians have no chance of being accepted in Ispahan's university, so as he travels through Europe, Rob disguises himself as a Jew. Once in Ispahan, after being thrown in jail for impudence, Rob skillfully flatters the Shah, is allowed to study medicine and is soon a favorite of Ibn Sina and of the Shah. Rob is sent to fight the plague in an outlying town; he finds Mary and weds her; he goes with the Shah on a military Campaign to India. His knowledge of healing grows; but when the Shale's enemies mass and overwhelm the city, Rob and Mary gather their young family and flee to England. There, Rob drops his Jewish disguise and opens a practice, but soon settles in the comparative freedom of Mary's ancestral lands in Scotland. One of Rob's sons, it seems, has inherited his father's gift of touch; through him, the knowledge of healing will continue to grow. All in all, fair-to-middling entertainment--short on dramatic peaks and skillful plotting but filled with a lot of good historical detail and a fascinating look into the medical ""arts"" of the time.

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 1986
Publisher: Simon & Schuster