Thursday, February 3, 2011

‘The Six-Liter Club’ by Harry Kraus – Book Review

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An author that has made his way to the top of my ‘Favorite Author’ List is Harry Kraus. I had the pleasure of reading ‘The Six-Liter Club’ recently.

Here is the synopsis of this engaging book:

Elusive Whispers, A Dark Closet, Strong Arms… Does She Even Want to Remember?
Camille Weller has arrived as the first African-American attending in the trauma service of the Medical College of Virginia. Never mind that the locker rooms are labeled “doctors” and “nurses” rather than “men” and “women” or that her dark skin communicates “incapable” to many of her white male colleagues in the OR. Camille has battled prejudices her entire career, but those battles were small spats compared to what she faces now.
When a colleague discovers a lump in her breast, she believes Dr. Camille Weller is the best doctor for her. Together, they decide on a course of treatment that bucks the established medical system, keeping Camille firmly in the crosshairs of male surgeons already riddled with skepticism and suspicion.
Her success as a surgeon is jeopardized further when dark whispers from her childhood in Africa plague Camille’s thoughts. Bewildering panic attacks instill fear in a surgeon bent on maintaining the control, pace, and direction of her own life. Unable to shake the flashes of memory, Camille is forced to face a past she has not acknowledged since the death of her father on an African mission field. Who was he? Who was she? And why would either of those questions affect her present?

Here is the biography of this multi-faceted man:

Harry Kraus is a board-certified general surgeon whose novels, including Salty Like Blood, Could I Have This Dance?, and Lethal Mercy, incorporate a medical background. A bestselling author, he has also written three works of nonfiction – Breathing Grace, The Cure and Domesticated Jesus After several years as a medical missionary in Kenya and multiple medical mission trips to such countries as Albania, Swaziland, and Honduras, Dr. Kraus is currently on furlough with his family in Virginia before returning to Africa for further medical mission service. 

I was intrigued by the fact that Dr. Kraus write this novel with a woman as the main character in the first person. He knows how the mind of a woman works! I think it is probably a challenging for a man to write through the eyes of a woman; Dr. Kraus handles it with aplomb!

The book alternates between Camille’s life as a surgeon in Virginia in 1984 and as a ten year old girl living with her missionary surgeon father and African mother in the Congo in 1964. Dr. Kraus writes the story seamlessly; it is not difficult to follow the story line, as it sometimes can be when a book goes back and forth in time. In her adult years, she has to overcome the fact that she is both multiracial and a female; in the Congo of her childhood, she and her parents have to live amidst the Simba Rebellion against the government.  

Clearly, Camille was a very bright little girl. Here is an observation she made upon seeing a dead body in the street:

My daddy says only Jesus or Lazarus came back from the dead after three days, and the Simbas will have to face the facts. I’m not sure where the facts to face are, but I know that soon the Simba men won’t be able to face this body at all ‘cause it’s getting stinkier in the heat. At least it rained this morning and washed some of the blood into the dusty road. (p. 12)

Despite the faith of her missionary father, Dr. Weller did not share his beliefs. Here is an exchange between her and her best friend, Kara:

“What about faith? Your father was a missionary, right? Some of that must have worn off on you. You can’t explain Christian faith by scientific theory.”
“I agree. But I’m afraid you’re grasping for straws here. I don’t profess any religious belief.”
“I know, I know. I’m just saying some of his beliefs has to transfer to you – even subconsciously.”
“Well, they didn’t. I didn’t know my father well enough for his beliefs, whatever they were, to wear off on me.” (p. 78)

Despite the struggle she endured from others because of her race and gender, Camille came to a realization about her life:

I nodded my head slowly as I realized that Dr. Gilles [her supervisor] was not ultimately in charge of my fate. The stodgy surgical establishment that he represented would not be what crushed me. I had backbone enough to stand up to their inertia, that seemingly immoveable system that resisted change like an incumbent Democrat. I’d identified my own worst enemy. I had two months to prove I could last longer than my predecessors. If I didn’t make it, it would be all her fault. The girl in the mirror. She was sabotaging me. (p. 80)

The Lord used the mother of one of Dr. Weller’s patients to bring some important truths to her:

        She looked pointedly at me. “Are you a believer, sister?”
I didn’t want to disappoint her. But I couldn’t just lie. “A believer?” I looked at the top of Nadine’s shiny black shoes. “Not exactly.”
“How can you do what you do, see the wonder of the human body every day, and not believe?”
This seemed to be an honest question rising out of curiosity. In her simple way of looking at the world, she undoubtedly thought this reasoning was black and white.
She deserved a response, but I wasn’t sure how to tell her that what I saw every day, the suffering, the injustice, the inhumanity of man hurting man – the daily bread of the surgeon was exactly how I justified my doubts. Instead of spilling those words, I found myself falling on a comfortable modus operandi. “I’m a scientist, Mrs. Solomon. I guess I have trouble believing things that can’t be proven.”
“God’s going to raise my boy, and he’s going to do it to speak to you,” pointing at my chest. (pp. 83-84)

It is clear from reading this book that the author has experience in the medical industry. Here Dr. Kraus (who is himself a surgeon), in the voice of his character, Dr. Weller, explains what she saw as she operated on Dr. Tina Kinser, a psychiatrist who is also on staff:

I made an elliptical curvilinear incision around the dimpled skins in the upper outer quadrant of the breast. I could feel the firmness of the tissue I’d set out to eradicate. Breast cancer is not stupid. Although the center of the tumor was hard and unable to hide, there were microscopic fingers that reached into the surrounding tissue, making discovery by the finger or the naked eye impossible. For this reason, I stayed well away from the palpable firmness and cut away the tissue at last a centimeter back from the firmness of the indiscrete margin. (p. 199)

The book’s final pages had many twists and turns among the relationships between the three main characters. The ending was not what I was expecting, but it was highly satisfying and heartwarming as well!

The book includes a Reading Group Guide. This would be a really great book to use with a book club in a hospital or medical office setting, where the medical background of the story would really resonate.

I have read one other book by Dr. Kraus – ‘Domesticated Jesus’ (you can read my review here). I was challenged by that book. I consider this book to me of equal quality, although so much different. Dr. Kraus is a wonderful writer; I appreciate how he uses all of his many gifts for God’s glory. I intend to pursue future titles by this godly and talented man.

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Howard Books and provided by them for review purposes.

1 comment:

Wanda said...

I read this book last year and it was one of my favorite reads.

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