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Shedding Life: Disease, Politics, and Other Human Conditions 1st Edition

ISBN-13: 978-1571312174
ISBN-10: 157131217X
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From Kirkus Reviews

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. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.


Although he's well known as an immunologist and a poet who has published more than 13 collections, this is Czech writer Miroslav Holub's first collection of short essays (and a few interspersed poems). Holub is considered one of the most important poets of post-Communist Czechoslovakia. In these essays, he shows his virtuosity with language and his intellectual take on life. The work focuses on scientific and political concerns and is often humorous, even absurd and cynical. They concern the soul, ethics, freedom and wisdom, among other themes. Many doctors seem attracted by the essay; it is a challenging form. In fact, in one of his essays, Holub responds to another doctor's, Lewis Thomas' essay entitled "The Tucson Zoo." Unlike that American medical essayist, Holub reacts to seeing captive beavers and otters in a more bleak Eastern European manner. He believes that Czechs have "receptors for creatures in distress" and that the animals perhaps remind them of the state of the Central European homeland. This book is heavy going and certainly not in the somewhat typical American style of personal narrative essay. -- From Independent Publisher

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