Monday, May 29, 2017

'The Book of Madness and Cures'

I was a little skeptical of Regina O'Melveny's 'The Book of Madness and Cures' (2013). It really doesn't sound like the sort of story that I gravitate towards, especially when it's set in the time frame of Renaissance, and moves like the olden tales. But somehow, I decided to read it. Glad I did.

Protagonist then-30-year-old Gabriella Mondini was thwarted from becoming a fully accepted physician in 1590 Venice when her father, a brilliant doctor, suddenly disappeared. He effectively abandoned his family, life's work and dreams of publishing a medical journal.

With two trusted loyal servants who are husband and wife, Lorenzo and Olmina, she set out on a long journey to find her father. Eventually, a year later in 1591, she had to end the journey alone, heartbroken and sad in a faraway land of Taradante, a five-day camel ride from Maroccan. But she was with sympathetic and kind company. The father was fully stricken with a malady that he must have harbored since he was a child, and by adulthood, he couldn't control it anymore and succumbed to it. It worsened with each full moon. He seemed to have completely gone animal. While keeping a human form lah. This isn't a supernatural tale. Stop thinking werewolf!  That's why he had to leave, to try to find a cure, and at this later stage of the malady, he couldn't go home to Venice. He died not long after Gabriella found him in Tarandante.

I like how the book ended. Gabriella took home to Venice new skills in the healing art of bezoar stones. She was pregnant while in Taradante and birthed a daughter, Damiana, two months after the death of her father. She did marry her love Hamish, who's also the father of her child.

In the last chapter, it was 1600, and Damiana was nine years old, and also exhibited more than an interest and deep talent in the art of healing illnesses in humans and animals. Gabriella completed her father's dream of finishing the compilation 'The Book of Diseases' and published it, and by now, the guild had grudgingly accepted her as a full-fledged competent and independent physician. I wasn't bored by their travel tales and journey. The characters weren't irritating, had backbone and are pretty 'modern' in their values and outlook, considering the time period of the story. It was an interesting account of fiction interwoven with history and medical facts, and alternative healing arts.

I now agreed with Dr. Cardano that my father had suffered this malady in some form since I was a child. My mother must have known and borne the burden with confusion and shame, anger and impatience, patience. I recalled a night when I couldn't sleep, went to my window, and observed my father, visible under the moon, prowling the courtyard, crunching the gravel pathway loudly beneath his trudging feet, pacing around and around our garden. I didn't know what he was doing there, but it made my stomach twist. Then I saw m mother's face dimly at their bedroom window, also watching. Then she withdrew. Later I thought that I'd dreamt it. But how had my father worsened to this point? I'd never know. The moon had hollowed him out.

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