Thursday, September 11, 2008

Olaf reviewed in Booklist

My editor sent me this nice review of Dr. Olaf from Booklist:

Doctor Olaf Van Schuler’s Brain
By Kirsten Menger-Anderson
Oct. 2008. 304p. Algonquin, $22.95 (9781565125612) Historical Fiction.

The history of medicine and medical quackery, and one’s family personal history within that context, conjoin in this startlingly effective, even educational, novel. The Steenwyck family represents a long processions of brilliant doctors, going all the way back to colonial New York; but if brilliant, they also have quirky, even strange personalities. In a sequence of relatively short chapters, the author, eschewing a long, continuous narrative, preferring, in fact, an album of picture portraits, takes what amounts to snapshots of each Steenwyck doctor as the generations succeed one another, with each doctor’s “professional” activities speaking to the medical issue—or fad—of the day, from learning the mechanics of the brain to raising the dead to practicing phrenology to the Salk vaccine to the current popularity of breast implants. These individuals conduct their research and practices with typical Steenwyck passion, even in the face of skepticism, adversity, and disastrous results. For the most part, medical history cannot help but be interesting, and this author brings the subject to a fascinating glow; by extension, the story of the Steenwyck family becomes one thread of American cultural history.

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