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After a female physician performs an autopsy on a victim of liver disease, she applies the same detached intelligence to an analysis of her dysfunctional family
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Night Duty gets off to a rather lurid start--the first sentence takes us into the middle of an autopsy--but it soon becomes apparent that Melitta Breznik is aiming for more than just shock value. As the novel moves from a graphic description of the meat and bones that make up the human body into the consciousness of the narrator (a young female physician), it sets up one of the central concerns of the book: the dichotomy between body and soul. Leaving the pathologist's laboratory to return to her ward, the physician passes an elderly man who is dying in a ward storeroom:
His wife is leaving as he gasps for air and his face turns a deeper and deeper shade of violet. Rats always leave a sinking ship; we are no longer used to being there when someone dies. I stay, his death doesn't really mean anything to me. It will gnaw at me later, right now there is nothing more I can do.The unnamed protagonist's sense of futility in her profession extends to her private life, as well; her job has returned her to the small Austrian town where she was born and raised and where her father, a hopeless alcoholic, is slowly dying. As she juggles the exhausting responsibilities of work with the exigencies of caring for her elderly relative, the narrative slips back and forth between memories of her childhood and the present moment. Neither place is particularly hopeful. In the aftermath of World War II, the narrator's German mother journeys to Austria to make a life with the man she met and married several years before in Germany. Life quickly goes downhill, as the father loses his job and his dignity, their parents' marriage disintegrates into violence, a child dies, and eventually the rest of the family washes up on the inhospitable shores of poverty, unemployment, and alcoholism. All this is juxtaposed with the doctor's current struggle to remain human--and humane--in the face of medicine's tendency to reduce patients to less than the sums of their parts. The victories are small: at age 60, the narrator's mother finally leaves her abusive husband and starts a modest life of her own; the narrator herself achieves some kind of rapprochement with her dying father; and the disappointments are great. Yet this spare, sad novel traces the contours of blighted lives sympathetically-- resolutely, without pity. It is not about victims; it is simply about life. --Alix Wilber Language Notes:
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: German
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Book Description Steerforth Pr, 1999. Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P11188364285X
Book Description Steerforth Pr, 1999. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M188364285X