Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Last Jew

I finished the third of a bunch of books I've read by Noah Gordon now have ordered the only two others that our library has. If my love of this author continues I may have to (*gasp*) buy the rest!

My reading odyssey all began with "The Physician," which Nate gave me right before I left for Minnesota. I was turning the house upside-down for a paperback for the plane and he produced it. It was required reading for a class of his at Erskine. "The Physician" is about a little guy who loses his parents and is given to a traveling barber surgeon. Now, this is 11th century London, so he's a traveling "doctor," such as they were. The boy learns all about the business of helping people with minor ailments, as well as selling a potion they called "physick" and juggling and telling stories to bring in more income. After the barber dies, the boy decides he wants to be a real, learned medical doctor. But they are few and far between and the one he knows of and wants to apprentice with won't take him on because he's not a Jew. He travels to the school in Persia where the Jewish physician took his training and gains entrance to study under Persian physician Avicenna by pretending to be a Jew (there is a ban on Christian students).

It's a wonderful book that I hated to see end:

After finishing that one, I ordered "Shaman," which is about this same physician's descendant. It takes place on the Illinois frontier in the civil war era. I wrote about that one here, but didn't say much. It covers the advent of anesthesia and hygiene, as well as early American apothecaries and Indian medicine. "Shaman" is particularly interesting because this doctor is deaf as a result of contracting Scarlet Fever as a child.

The "Last Jew." Now this one was hard to get into at first. I actually started it and then put it down for 2 weeks. It's very dry at the beginning, but I picked it up again because I remembered that the other two were a tiny bit slow grabbing my attention. So I stuck it out a few more pages and then was hooked. It takes place during the Spanish Inquisition, and the "last Jew" left in Spain, who survived by keeping his Jewishness, (and his circumcised penis,) under wraps. Our hero, Yonah Helkiah, wanders around Spain after surviving the decimation of his family (he'd hidden in a cave). He takes on several odd-ranging jobs and names as he wanders, ultimately apprenticing to a metal master and then later, that master's brother, who is a physician.
Another book I hated to see end!