March Read­ing I

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In the Bonesetter’s Wait­ing Room: Travels Through Indi­an Medi­cine – Aarathi Prasad

A collec­tion of articles from the Wellcome Collec­tion about differ­ent aspects of medi­cine in India, from Bolly­wood plastic surgeons to clin­ics in remote jungle areas occu­pied by Maoist guer­il­las via tradi­tion­al medi­cine, bone-setting shops, hospit­als that have to share space with a shrine to Kali, and bizarre rituals involving swal­low­ing live fish. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, and reads more like magazine articles some­times than a book. The article about Devi Shetty in partic­u­lar, a cardi­olo­gist who opened his own hospit­al and insur­ance system reads more like an advert than anything else. Despite being uneven, it’s still well worth read­ing, and full of inter­est­ing stuff.

The Making of Home – Judith Flanders

A history of the devel­op­ment of houses and home in north­ern Europe and Amer­ica from 1500 to the present, taking in social history, design history and econom­ics, and how the way people at all levels of soci­ety lives and thought of them­selves, and how that changed from era to era. I already had her book on victori­an houses, and this is much the same- a very thor­ough review of the topic, with lots of inter­est­ing snip­pets of inform­a­tion.

Woman on the Edge of Time – Marge Piercy

It’s 1974, and Connie Ramos has been dumped in a New York psychi­at­ric hospit­al after beat­ing up her niece’s boyfriend/​pimp in self-defence. She has regu­lar visits by Luciente, a time-trav­el­ler from an idyll­ic gender-neut­ral eco utopia 150 years in the future, who is concerned that Connie is living at a vital tipping point, a time whose events make the differ­ence between Luciente’s future exist­ing, or the coming into being of an altern­at­ive dysto­pi­an timeline they also both see flashes of, a corpor­ate-feud­al hell­s­cape soci­ety where women are consumer goods leased out to soldiers, them­selves owned by the corpor­a­tions.

I had never heard of this book until it was re-issued a few years ago, with glow­ing praise by Margaret Attwood, and I don’t know why it’s not as well-known as The Handmaid’s Tale. Maybe it’s because the heroine isn’t a straight­for­ward simple figure- Connie is a Mexic­an woman born in the 1930s who has lived a tough life, made many mistakes along the way, and has a complic­ated family life. She is the same age as me, 36, but her initial self-image is of a worn out old woman, crushed by the system and soci­ety.

Maybe it was before its time- it mixes a combin­a­tion of exposé of how brutal, racist, miso­gyn­ist and corrupt the US mental health­care and welfare systems were at that time (based on under­cov­er research the author carried out), with a simil­ar atmo­sphere to Requiem for a Dream, with the utopi­an future where gender roles and restric­tions are a thing of a past. It’s notice­able that the one star hostile reviews on Goodreads are mostly from middle aged white men.

Unlike a lot of YA dysto­pi­an novels, Connie doesn’t get to become lead­er of some glor­i­ous revolu­tion that sweeps away the corrupt regime in one fell swoop- she lives in our soci­ety, with all its complic­a­tions and obstacles. Her resist­ance is to survive the brutal and dehu­man­ising psychi­at­ric hospit­al system, try to get out or help her fellow inmates to, and try to discreetly sabot­age the exper­i­ment­al brain surgery programme that she and her fellow patients are forcibly being used as guinea pigs for, that seems to be the trig­ger for the dysto­pi­an timeline.

(Only the day before I read this book, I was read­ing an article about a very simil­ar programme in the UK of giving unwill­ing patients unne­ces­sary exper­i­ment­al brain surgery in the 70s- Guard­i­an article)

“Suddenly she thought that these men believed feel­ing itself a disease, some­thing to be cut out like a rotten appendix. Cold, calcu­lat­ing, ambi­tious, believ­ing them­selves ration­al and super­i­or, they chased the crouch­ing female anim­al through the brain with a scalpel. From an early age she had been told that what she felt was unreal and didn’t matter. Now they were about to place in her some­thing that would rule her feel­ings like a ther­mo­stat.”

I abso­lutely recom­mend this book, it’s one of the best things I’ve read in a long time.

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