Physician as Novelist

Dr. Keilson devoted his life to his patients, many of them Jewish children traumatized by the war and separation from their biological parents, some of whom the Nazis had murdered. He wrote a groundbreaking and widely translated study of “sequential trauma.”


The novels are partly autobiographical, sparse but intricate and psychologically compelling. “The Death of the Adversary” portrays Jewish life in Germany as the Nazis gain control, but the words Jew, Germany and Hitler, referred to as “B,” never appear. The protagonist, a young Jew, feels distanced from both his own people and current events. He develops an intimate obsession with B, understanding that, as Dr. Keilson said, “B needed the Jews to project onto them what he dislikes in himself.”

(Link: NYT) Has anyone read the novels of Hans Keilson? I am intrigued.

Update: Are there other physician novelists that CBz readers care to recommend?

7 thoughts on “Physician as Novelist”

  1. I’ll answer my own comments and update bleg!

    French psychiatrist and novelist Lydie Salvayre’s novella Everyday Life is elegant, yet disturbing. From the back cover blurb:

    “Narrated by a character every bit as delusional and upsetting as any found in comtemporary fiction, Everyday Life stunningly depicts the tragicomedy of a life spent in an office where even the pettiest disruption of routine can escalate into monumental crisis.”

    – Madhu

  2. Well, in addition to Chekhov. Somerset Maugham and Arthur Conan Doyle, there’s Walker Percy whose novels I enjoyed. Also William Carlos Williams for poetry. And if you’re into turn of the (20th) century golden age detective fiction, which I am, there’s R. Austin Freeman who wrote a series of novels starring Dr. Thorndyke, a one man CSI bureau. Oh, and Theodore Dalrymple, aka Anthony Daniels, who writes for various right-wing publications about all sorts of things, including his experiences as an English prison doctor.

  3. Michael Crichton is an obvious choice. Another who may be less prominent these days is AJ Cronin who gives a very good picture of pre-NHS British medicine, including his days as a young medical student.

    I might add that it is widely believed that Conan Dolyle’s model for Sherlock Holmes was Joseph Bell, his professor of medicine at Edinburgh. One occasion related by Doyle was a clinic in which a woman brought a sick child to be examined by the professor. Before beginning his examination, he asked her a number of questions about the small island where she and the child lived. He had never seen the woman before but recognized the reddish soil on her shoes which was found only in the street leading to the ferry terminal. A similar incidence occurs in “A Study in Scarlet,” Doyle’s first Holmes novel.

  4. Thanks so much everyone for the suggestions.

    I like this list. Thanks for reminding me of the familiars and throwing some new authors into the mix.

    – Madhu

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