Sunday, September 17, 2006


Nicola Morgan, the author, makes her home near Edinburgh, Scotland, the setting for this historical fiction novel. She has based this novel on true stories and the characters are created from information about people who lived in Edinburgh. The time is 1822, a time before anesthetics were used when performing surgeries. One of Robbie’s memories is of his mother’s surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from her breast – he vividly recalls her screams of pain. The author presents a picture for the reader that shows the doctor giving little dignity or concern to the patient. Robbie also remembers that she dies in less than a week from a blood infection. The surgeon is a Dr. Robert Knox, and Robbie believes the doctor is responsible for his mother’s death.

Robbie and his little sister Essie are abandoned by their father and survive on their own in the slums of Edinburgh. Robbie is consumed by his hatred of Dr. Knox. This leads him to an association with Burke and Hare, bodysnatchers, who provide Dr. Knox with corpses for his study of anatomy. This is not something that Robbie understands.

The book gives the reader a glimpse of what surgery was like almost 200 years ago, and it also gives us the not so pretty picture of life for many in the slums of a city. We ride on Robbie’s emotional journey of reconciling his mother’s death from surgery. The novel also may cause the reader to think about how we make advances in surgery and medical treatment.


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