Sunday, August 12, 2012

3593 The Physician, the novel

Sunday, August 12, 2012

“Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one.”
--  Voltaire  --


The book has been absorbing.  I highly recommend it.   It has sent me to the internet many times for history, geography, Persian words, names of plants, pharmacopeia, anatomy, social customs, and more.  Man, life was hard in the eleventh century.  Author Noah Gordon's research was admirable.

There were a few things that left me wondering.  In the first few pages Gordon  describes a healthy child who we are told is 18 months old, but seems from his description to be more like 6 months old at most.  I think this may have been an error.  I suspect that a few pages later he decided that the mother of the child should die in childbirth, so he changed the infant's age from 6 months to 18 to fit the timing, without changing the description.

At another point Gordon seems to realize that there's a sticky problem, so he solves it with a convenient horse bite.  I found it very difficult to accept that bite.  I couldn't imagine how it could have happened, and when Rob mentioned it to a friend, I couldn't imagine the friend not asking how.  Like, the child would have to have been lying naked in a manger or something.  (Huh?  Perhaps in this case appropriate.)  Also, it's impossible that no one had noticed the suspicious "scar" prior to that point in the story, and, having noticed, impossible that they would not have asked about it.

Later in the book there is a footrace in Persia.  The race is so long and in such heat that few runners finish, so the winner of the handsome prize is he who is last moving.  The Shah has also offered a further huge prize to whomever can continue to run a bit further after finishing the first race to a total of 126 Roman miles, completed within 12 hours.  One of the characters accepts the Shah's challenge and wins the prize.

I wondered how far 126 Roman miles was in English miles.  I hit the internet again.  According to several sources, a Roman mile was equivalent to approximately 1,620 modern yards.  Multiply, divide, and 126 Roman miles is 116 modern miles.  Wow.  But it gets more unbelievable.  To run 116 miles in 12 hours (let alone less) requires an average speed of 9.7 mph.  That's an average of  a hair over 6 minutes per mile, sustained for 12 hours!  In intense heat.

Sorry.  I don't buy it.

The author's notes at the end, dated May 3, 2012, describe his research and mention that there's a movie in the works.

I don't know whether this is good or bad.  A movie?  Impossible!  A PBS mini-series, maybe.  But if the movie is less than 6 hours long (I'd like to say 10), it just won't do the book justice.  I am disgusted that people will watch a 90-minute Hollywood synopsis, and then think they know the book.


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