A charming, well-crafted memoir of an Indian doctor.

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THE SURGEON'S KNOT

Shirahatti recounts tales from his career as a Mumbai, India–based surgeon in the mid-1970s in this debut memoir.

When the author showed up on his first day as a surgical house officer at Mumbai’s Sion Hospital, he had no idea what lay in store for him. The personalities among his colleagues were big and numerous: Dr. Praful “the Prof” Joshi, who “chew[ed] iron nails and residents for breakfast”; Sister Georgina Thomas, a nurse who loved patients and hated new residents; the triage-obsessed Dr. Vilas; and the wisecracking resident Prakash. In the surgical ward, members of all classes of Mumbai society cycled in and out in an endless dance of life and death. The author was forced to shed many preconceived notions of what it meant to administer aid while simultaneously opening himself up to the rawness of humanity in its many forms. (The author would quickly be nicknamed “Guru” by his colleagues for his “expert advice.”) Once, he writes, he was nearly stabbed by a gang member for not administering to a dead man; another time, he sewed up a suspected rapist despite the anger of a mob. At one point, he writes, a colleague said that a patient was “waiting for the train to Guntakal”—a euphemism for being on one’s deathbed (“Who would want to go there?” asked Prakash). Throughout this memoir, Shirahatti writes in the formal yet easily readable prose of an experienced raconteur, which highlights the wryness and frequently dark humor of some stories. The lighter moments are offset by moments of probity, and the sincere affection that Shirahatti has for his colleagues is apparent. At fewer than 150 pages, the book makes a quick read. This works in its favor, as does its setting—the Mumbai of an earlier era—which will be unfamiliar to many readers. Although this book is not quite at the level of Richard Hooker (of MASH fame), Shirahatti presents surgery from an appealingly irreverent point of view that calls to mind larger questions about how significant, solid, or indispensable any of us really are.

A charming, well-crafted memoir of an Indian doctor.

Pub Date: March 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4828-8923-9

Page Count: 162

Publisher: PartridgeIndia

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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