It is the end of World War II. Barney Livingstone and Laura Castellano are children from Brooklyn and also neighbours. They met when they were a couple of years old and they were linked up by “playing at doctors”. They spent a lot of time together and they became real friends. Barney, son of a soldier,worshiped his father and was a brave and proud patriot. Laura, Italian doctor’s daughter was beautiful and ambitious. Both of them bacome Harvard’s students because of their fascination and events that took place in their life. First Laura’s sister died from polio and even their father couldn’t help her, he didn’t predict and prevent it. Then barney’s father died from heart attack because other doctor was afraid to help him. In spite of many difficulties, discrimination of women at universities and lack of money they finally achived what they wanted. And it is the beginning of fascinating journey through the world of science, people’s suffering and fight but also joy and victory, from the miracle of birth till different aspects of death .
Barney and Laura belong to the generation who will devote their lives for being a doctor and will be trying to improve health care system as well as the quality of life and death of many patients. Together with the members of this generation the reader reflects on life and the most important values of life, death and the mercy killing, feelings and acts of different people. Friends from Brooklyn on their own skin experienced problems of doctors’ world and they will be struggle with the problems of many young people, they will love and suffer, fight and enjoy their successes. Together with the main heroes of the novel we get to know different characters of the Hipocrates’succesors : climbers who don’t count with other person’s will, indifferent employees and those devoted to their patients, fighting not only for their health but also for their dignity. Author convinces us that physicians are only human beings, they haven’t got supernatural abilities and there are mistakes in medical art but the most important is to follow one’s bright mind and above all loving heart, because love is the fundamental priciple of medicine.
Apart from Barney and Laura we meet also Bennett Landsman, Seth Lazarus, Hank Dwyer, Peter Wyman, Grete Anderson, Alison Redmond, Lance Mortimer and others. Their fate is described not only during the studies at Harvard university that begin in 1958 ( when each of them experienced-among other things- difficulties with assimilating huge amount of knowledge, anatomy lessons in prosectorium, the pressure of time, first contacts with patients, suicide of their class mate, the incident with the experiments on not enough anaesthetized dogs), but also their childhood and their careers as doctors. Author presents us their struggle with the occupational, moral and personal problems. We’ve got a cross-section of a society of physicians because for example Barney, Laura, Bennett, Hank, Seth are consecutively psychiatrist, paediatrician, surgeon, gynaecologist ginekologiem and GP. Each of them has got different experiences. Barney witnesses tragic fate of metally ill people from Bellvelue Hospital, his former basketball coach who was wrongly diagnosed. Laura despite of her achivements is unfairly treated by her superiors – they do not want to grant her. Seth is severely punished for mercy killing in spite of really exeptional situations of those patients. Bennett come across racism i the hospital where he is working. Hank suffers ethical dilemmas and he can’t keep his new family together....
There is wonderfully described Barney and Bennett’s friendship and above all friendship between Barney and Laura which eventually turns into deep, mature love. Contacts and relations with their families are also very important – some are peaceful, happy other dramatic but all of them considerably influence young doctors’ lives. For example Bennett is black soldier’s son brought up by Jewish couple. His father save the lady from death. Seth has got severely handiccaped brother who suffers and lives like a plant but is still subsisted despite of it.
In the background american reality, fighting for sexual equality in education, John Kennedy’s death, Martin King’s problem, racism and segregation of people, the war in Vietnam.
The book is skilfully written. Wonderful, amazing, witty novel. Segal described complicated world of medicine and doctors in accessible for everyone therefore proving his talent.