“The role of government … is to offer forms of protection that enhance our lives and shield our bodies from foreseeable and preventable dangers.” ~ Todd Brewster, Preface, Nobody (xvii).
When Marc Lamont Hill’s book Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond (Atria, 2016) appeared in August of 2016 we were in the final weeks of a presidential election that would win the Democratic nominee the popular vote, including the majority of Black and Brown votes, but carry Donald Trump into the presidency on the support of White America. Since November 2016, the American “war on the vulnerable” described in Hill’s book — a nation starkly sorted into the somebodies whose voices (and votes) matter and the nobodies whose lives are expendable — has only intensified. People of color, prisoners, LGBTQ people, the poor, non-Christians, the mentally and physically ill, immigrants and refugees, women, drug users, those whose lives are at risk due to climate change and environmental exploitation, all find themselves targeted by politicians who appear at best negligent and self-interested, at worst knowing agents of a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.
As the title of Nobody suggests, Hill (Distinguished Professor of African-American Studies, Morehouse College) grounds his narrative of vulnerable lives in the experiences of Black and Brown Americans whose bodies bear the brunt of state violence in this country. Each chapter focuses on a distinct site of state violence: the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; the fatal results of “broken windows” policing; the normalizing of plea bargains; state sanction of extrajudicial violence; the prison-industrial complex; the lack of clean drinking water in Flint, Michigan. Full-length books could (and have) been written about each of these topics, and Nobody does not seek to be comprehensive so much as connective — to string these sites of state-sponsored and state violence together into a single narrative of the devaluation of human lives. Continue reading “Book Review: Nobody”
Review by Veronica Tomasic.
A Surgeon in the Village: An American Doctor Teaches Brain Surgery in Africa (Beacon Press, 2017) is the story of American neurosurgeon Dr. Dilan Ellegala’s efforts to provide medical aid in Tanzania. It was written by Tony Bartelme, an American reporter for Charleston, South Carolina’s Post and Courier; Bartelme is a three time Pulitzer prize finalist, including for the series that formed the basis for this book. The Post and Courier’s executive editor relayed a story to Bartelme about a “crazy brain surgeon who opened a guy’s head with a wire saw in Africa”; Bartelme’s interest was piqued and thus began the story that he narrates here (269).
A Surgeon in the Village is a bildungsroman of sorts. It describes the beginning of Ellegala’s career as a neurosurgeon and his personal journey toward finding meaning in his work. It is also about his ideas for how foreign medical aid should be delivered, and the growth of an organization, Madaktari Africa (Madaktari means doctors in Swahili), that he formed as a result of his ideas.
We first meet Ellegala when he has just completed his neurosurgery training in the US. He is burned out after years of grueling residency and fellowship programs. He travels to Tanzania for six months, volunteering to perform brain surgery at a small, remote hospital. Ellegala is determined to spend as much time as possible vacationing while there. But his plan changes after he starts to attend daily morning meetings where the visiting foreign students and MDs, and local medical personnel gather to discuss their cases. Ellegala observes that the foreign students sit in a privileged position at the front of the room, while the local personnel — such as assistant medical officers (or “AMOs,” who have paramedic plus a few years’ level of training) — stand at the back of the room. This disturbs his sense of propriety — in the US, medical students typically stand or sit behind attendings and residents. He insists that the students and local personnel trade places, a shift that becomes a central organizing metaphor for the book. The change symbolizes the degree of responsibility Ellegala believes the local staff should have for the care they provide, and the respect he feels they should be shown by foreign visitors. Continue reading “Book Review: Surgeon in the Village”
Review by Adair Rispoli.
In the leading subtitle of In Therapy: How Conversations with Psychotherapists Really Work (Profile Books, 2016), Susie Orbach suggests to the curious reader that they will discover “how conversations with psychotherapists really work” should they decide to peruse the dainty book. The brevity of one-hundred-and-seven pages on psychotherapy conversations seem to belie the weighty subject. Nevertheless, one finds a partial clue of the succinct book in learning that it is dedicated to Orbach’s wife, Jeanette Winterson, a celebrated writer in her own right, whose curiosity evidently “always wanted to know what goes on in the consulting room” (dedication page). In pointing out these two facets, one can see the book has a niche goal: it is not to add to the arcane knowledge of psychology and psychiatry, nor is it to defy the patient-provider relationship to satisfy psycho-voyeurism, but rather, it is to provide a show of composite conversations that might plausibly occur in therapy rooms across the globe.
In the preface of Orbach’s In Therapy, one learns that Orbach’s radio mini-series of these conversations within the covers previously aired on BBC’s Radio 4 (in February and July 2016). The book’s format brings into the mix Orbach’s own illuminating professional perception of each situation brought to her consulting room that range from explaining why she must let Louis and Richard sustain a lover’s spat as she remains silent, to the monologue of queries she finds herself posing when John declares his love for Orbach. In short, readers repeatedly witness Orbach “use[s] the therapy relationship a bit like a laboratory” (xvii) to prove that “complexity and category making are the dialectical prerequisites of being human. We all struggle with the tension of between the two poles of questioning and certainty. Out of that tension comes enormous creativity” (39). Continue reading “Book Review: In Therapy”