Sunday, 28 July 2013

Doctor Bob by Lodewyk H.S. Van Mierop – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘This is the true story of “Doctor Bob”, who was born in Java from Dutch parents, and grew up fascinated by nature and science. As a teenager during the Pacific War, he and his family – and all Dutch nationals – were interned in concentration camps for over two years by the Japanese, suffering beatings, starvation, and other physical deprivations. He was not allowed to continue his education, except for a requirement to learn Japanese, which none of the internees had any interest in and thus sabotaged. After the war he was able to complete high school and medical school in Holland and spent the next seven years on a visitor’s visa in Albany, New York, having been accepted for a surgical residency.

From there, Doctor Bob faced a bureaucratic nightmare. With a Dutch passport, blond hair, and green eyes – and no visa – he was considered Asian under US law, and the US had no immigration quotas for Asians. Despite a series of immigration hurdles, which included emigrating to Canada, he was finally able to settle in the United States, where he became a researcher in cardiovascular embryology and the pathology of congenital heart disease. As a board-certified pediatric cardiologist, Doctor Bob witnessed the birth and growth of cardiac surgery in children’.

Doctor Bob is an autobiography written by the world-renowned physician Lodewyk H.S. van Mierop. I don’t usually read autobiographies but this person had an interesting and inspiring story to tell – a life that has revolved around Japanese concentration camps in the Far East, college in Europe and fame and career in the US.

The author begins by describing his place of birth and where he spent his early days – the erstwhile Netherlands East Indies (present day Indonesia). That was one good thing about this book – before going deep into a place, the author gave a full introduction about the place – its history and culture (be it Indonesia or Japan) making it much easier for the reader to understand and visualise.

Being in India, I’ve read countless accounts from natives of former colonies but this is the first time, I’m hearing something from a settler, something that I found really interesting – giving me a different perspective into the whole thing. Another equally interesting aspect of is that you get a first-hand account of the World War II and concentration camps rather than the partially fabricated articles you’ve from journalists. Moreover, the author too has other interests which he describes in detail – on collecting butterflies, breeding fish, maintaining snakes as pets – one can learn a lot about each one of them. I liked the occasional reference to politics – it reminded of the time the author was talking about.

Then comes the difficulty for a person whose knowledge on the author’s profession is next to nothing. Till the 330th page (approximately), it was mostly about the events surrounding his life but then, it completely shifted focus to his profession. Surely, the author’s inputs on thoracic surgery or paediatric cardiology would’ve been informative to any medical students or doctors, I could hardly understand a word of it (something for which the author could hardly be blamed) and hence, couldn’t notice the gradual changes in practices and the technological inputs in the medical profession.

On the whole, I’d say that reading this book was a good experience – I came to know about a very interesting person, the author that is and; I’ve a lot more information now than what I had before I had read the book. This book would be particularly enjoyed by people who are related to the profession (not excluding others) and if they also happen to be interested in history, it would be a delightful reading experience.

I wouldn’t rate a book describing real life incidents but I’ve this to say – it is well presented and the author has compiled his life events very well.

Have a nice day,

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