HOUSE OF BABEL by P.C. Jersild


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Swedish social-realist Jersild's fourth novel to be published here, and his most powerful since After the Flood (1985); a ringing indictment of a medical system that has grown too big to care. Jersild--himself a physician--calls this 1978 novel a ""community-oriented"" fiction. Taking Stockholm's real-life hospital, Enskede, he shows blisteringly how large hospitals can become deeply impersonalized. Enskede is a shiny monster that looks like a ""large modern airport"" and cloyingly divides itself into ""streets"": Liver Street, Lung Street, etc. Into Heart Street one day comes retired typographer Primus Svennsson, stricken with a massive coronary while tending his garden. The highly sophisticated apparatus of Intensive Care keeps him alive; but once Primus is on the ward, he becomes just another number to be probed and poked and even disdained, as if sickness were weakness. The story follows not only Primus, but Dr. Gustaf Nystrom, a disillusioned internist forced by the system to continue a research project that he no longer believes in; and young Martina Bosson, his illicit lover, an intern who is beginning to lose her idealism. In the end, the two of them will split, victims of an impersonal bureaucracy. But despite the novel's strong political bent, it is really the story of Primus; his reconciliation with his alcoholic son, Bernt; and his death--with as much dignity as he can muster--while nearly robotic medical personnel take extraordinary means to try to keep him alive. All in all, a gripping and effective novel, both as indictment and human tragedy.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1987
Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska Press