Monday, 15 February 2010
a fortunate read
Spent the afternoon reading "A Fortunate Man" (The Story of a Country Doctor) by John Berger.
It is a very unusual, mesmerising book that uses beautiful, journalistic photographs and a very direct, unheroic style of writing to offer a memorable portrayt of a man, a doctor - that leaves you feeling immersed into thoughts of how precious life truly is - even through its most devastating, painful and inexplicable aspects.
I keep on going back to its pages and think that, any young person reading it would be enlightened, moved and motivated to become a doctor.
And not because of any fake mythology created around gp's and their daily life.
On the contrary.
I found "A Fortunate Man" an extraordinarily deep reflection on human ideals, hopes, downfalls and failed expectations.
This is a short book, modestly described by the author as an ‘essay’. In it a GP working in the Forest of Dean in the mid-1960s comes to life. We read about his encounters with patients and his struggle to respond to their illnesses and lives.
The demanding and fallible humanity of John Sassall, the doctor, is described without holding back any detail. As if this were not enough, the book's photos by Jean Mohr are the visual equivalent of a choral passion. They are nothing short of exceptional. With their silent black and white tones, they portray Sassall at work and in conversation, his patients as individuals and in groups, and the ever-changing dialogue between sky and landscape, both beautiful and full of foreboding.
Sassall began as a blood-and-guts "one-man hospital," performing emergency appendectomies on kitchen tables. He had contempt for distress he judged not real. Gradually, his work made him rethink his values. Sassall began to attend to psychosomatic illnesses. He underwent his own crisis, read Freud, and held his office open evenings, when he offered psychotherapy. Sassall was what Berger called a "master mariner," Odysseus, perhaps, a man with broad curiosity about the nature of the human circumstance - armed with diverse skills and ready for all adventures. The general practitioner was, in Berger's telling, the existential man, facing down death and his own demon.
I found this book astonishing and am only waiting to read it again.