Book Reviews | Doctors by Erich Segal

Even though its setting and dialogue are fifty years old, Doctors is a lasting portrait of the mind and soul of the medical practioner – what makes him tick and what makes him explode.

While the rest of the world is busy devouring (and I mean that in the absolute dirtiest sense possible) the controversial 50 Shades of Gray, I have been turning my attention to the works of Last, Netter and Grey. But this is not a post on my feelings about schoolwork drudgery.

Instead, I’d like to introduce the first book on my Physician’s Literature List: Doctors, penned by Erich Segal (of Love Story fame).

Admittedly I had shied away from this particular author because Love Story (his first novel) had me in tears every other page. But I’m very glad I listened to advice and gave Doctors a chance. In what I’ve come to understand as true Segal style, the author fabricates characters who are realistic and emotional and whom the reader immediately empathizes with. He creates a plot that is entirely character-driven, which only serves to multiply our ties with the characters, because it is so easy to identify with them.

Doctors chronicles the lives of four Harvard Medical students in the early 60’s. At the centre of the novel is the relationship between Barney Livingston and Laura Castellano. Through Laura, we are allowed to glimpse the gender discrimination that was only just being fazed out in the era of hippies, and the novel touches on issues of race and identity in the person of Bennett Landsmann, a lone black in a field of whites. For me, his story is particularly poignant – and not just the parts that make me want to beat the crap out of someone. Bennett’s character shows tons of resilience in the face of setbacks and disappointments, but I don’t think Mr. Segal finished his story very well, if at all. At the end of the novel, only Seth’s, Barney’s and Laura’s dramas are concluded.

Overall, Mr. Segal’s approach to narration and indeed characterization is above par. He juxtaposes factual events of the 60’s with his fictional revelations so seamlessly that one cannot help but be drawn into the character’s dazzling successes and bitter failures. Unafraid to deal heavily with issues of morality, Mr. Segal paints a picture of man that is comparable to Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. Like his lead protagonist, Barney, Mr. Segal creates a novel that dissects the heart and soul of our esteemed medical practioners.

As a student of Hippocrates, this novel offers valuable insights into what makes the medical profession tick. Despite entering a task force that is more than fifty years ahead of Mr. Segal’s work, I think a lot of the issues presented by Mr. Segal still carry through. I’m going to hold on to Doctors as a guiding light for my formative years in the wide world of medical careers. I can only say I wish I’d read it sooner.

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