Neshama’s Choices for October 16th

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The People's Hospital by Ricardo Nuila  

Subtitled Hope and Peril in American Medicine.  The author, a practicing physician and professor, shares his paradoxical experiences at Ben Taub, a county hospital in Houston. He tracks a handful of patients who have very challenging diagnoses coupled with financial constraints and through them reveals what works and what doesn’t.  This hospital takes everyone, no matter what, and provides very good medicine.  But problems of bureaucracy, insurance, and social instability dog his subjects at every turn. Nuila tells it like it is, articulately describing their struggles, and providing extensive background material on the lamentable state of health care in America. I admit I picked my way through the book, riveted by the personal stories, and didn’t give his excellent research the attention it deserves, but want to spotlight this powerful book here.  


Girlfriend on Mars by Deborah Willis  

Low-key Kevin can’t believe that Amber is competing on reality TV for a chance to be launched into space with no hope of returning.  She dumps her boring job to give it her all; she wants to bring her botanical expertise to the Red Planet. Meanwhile, Kevin tends the weeds they grow and mopes. Only two will be chosen and she’s a long-shot but the TV audience loves her bad-girl spunk. This is marvelous satire with an underlying message, especially relevant with the recent “antics” of Musk et. al.  


Vanishing Maps by Christina Garcia  

Even after death, Felicia can’t let go of her offspring. Her ghost, often visible or palpable to those she haunts, is trying to set things straight. But her relatives’ paths are spectacularly far-flung and convoluted. In Berlin, Ivanito is a translator and drag queen; in Moscow, Irina is running a successful lingerie factory; from LA, rebellious failed-artist granddaughter Pilar flees to Berlin where her son Azul might end up following in Ivanito’s stiletto-heeled footsteps; in Miami, Lourdes gets involved with a cause: Eliseo, the kid who washed up on our shores but now his father in Cuba wants him back. Aged Celia, the matriarch who never left Cuba, reconnects with an old lover after a very long gap and now they’re having a romantic idyll in Spain, quoting Lorca to each other. This is a delicious fever dream of a book in which dialectical discussions and surprising meetings in tango dance halls get quite a workout. Peppered with Spanish, Russian, and German phrases. Heady and delightful!  


The Couples Trip by Elf Kvensler  

Anna and Hendrik have trekked with long-time friend Milena every summer.  Now Milena is bringing her very new boyfriend Jacob, also a skilled mountaineer. Tensions between the four of them mount.  Especially when Jacob proposes a change in plans which takes them into wild, extremely challenging terrain where interpersonal stresses mixed with an unforgiving environment result in tragedy. I didn’t warm up to any of the characters but love to read about adventures gone wrong, and the story with its rapidly shifting plot twists kept me on tenterhooks.