The Washington Post
Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brainby Kirsten Menger-Anderson
In 1664 Dr. Olaf van Schuler flees the Old World and arrives in New Amsterdam with his lunatic mother, two bags of medical implements, and a carefully guarded book of his own medicines. He is the first in what will become a long line of peculiar physicians. Plagued by madness and guided by an intense desire to cure human affliction, each generation of this unusual… See more details below
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In 1664 Dr. Olaf van Schuler flees the Old World and arrives in New Amsterdam with his lunatic mother, two bags of medical implements, and a carefully guarded book of his own medicines. He is the first in what will become a long line of peculiar physicians. Plagued by madness and guided by an intense desire to cure human affliction, each generation of this unusual family is driven by the science of its day: spontaneous combustion, phrenology, animal magnetism, electrical shock treatment, psychosurgery, genetic research. As they make their way in the world, New York City, too, evolves—from the dark and rough days of the seventeenth century to the towering, frenetic metropolis of today.
Like Patrick Süskind's classic novel Perfume, Kirsten Menger-Anderson's debut is a literary cabinet of curiosities—fascinating and unsettling, rich and utterly singular.
The Washington Post
The New York Times
Menger-Anderson's vivid and original collection follows several generations of New York doctors and charts the social and political forces that shaped New York City from the 17th century to today. Dr. Olaf van Schuler emigrates from Holland to New Amsterdam in 1664 and continues his study of animal brains. After he has a child by Adalind Steenwycks, each subsequent generation spins out in its own story, concluding with Dr. Elizabeth Steenwycks, the medical researcher daughter of Dr. Stuart Steenwycks, a plastic surgeon dying of a rare and fatal brain malady. Each generation applies the then current medical wisdom to tasks as varied as explaining a death by spontaneous combustion, resuscitating a boy's corpse and using phrenology to predict human behavior. In the early 1970s, Americans' obsession with their body image arises in the woeful tale of Sheila Talbot, 21, whose leaky breast implants hark back to the less-than-helpful medicine practiced in previous generations. The reader can follow how far medicine has advanced, but, surprisingly, note how human suffering and misery hasn't come such a long way. (Oct.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
“Good literary fiction about science and scientists is hard to find, probably because it is so hard to write. . . Fortunately there are some writers who bridge the gap well: Richard Powers, Andrea Barrett, and Alan Lightman, to name a few. And, now, Kirsten Menger-Anderson, whose debut, Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain, offers sharp, entertaining, moving, and above all provocative stories about doctors and their work and raises profound questions about the role of medicine in American life. . . Darkly funny, often sad, frequently frightening, and sometimes hopeful, they are the product of a gifted literary writer. . . Let us hope writers like Menger-Anderson indeed, books themselves are still around to poke holes in the hype and document, as she has done so deftly here.”Boston Globe
“The year's…gems included…Kirsten Menger-Anderson's creepy first collection, Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain.” Sun Sentinel, Best book of 2008
“A thriller that spans five centuries, Doctor Olaf Van Schuler’s Brain is entertaining and thought provoking. . . This book is eerie, smart, unique, and very delicately crafted, telling many stories in every layer of time. . . Truly a pleasure to read.”Feminist Review
- Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
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What People are saying about this
"Spellbinding....This book is like nothing you've read before."—Dr. Roald Hoffmann, Nobel laureate in chemistry and poet/playwright
"A true pleasure to read....Seamless."—Daphne Kalotay, author of Calamity and Other Stories
Meet the Author
Kirsten Menger-Anderson's stories have been short-listed for the Andre Dubus Award, the Richard Yates Award, the Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers, and the Iowa Review story contest and have appeared in a number of literary publications. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and baby.
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The books is seprated into 12 different stories. Each story is a different generation in the family of Doctor Olaf Van Schuler. Each one has a doctor who is just about as crazy if not worse than the one before. Makes you appreciate modern medicine. There is a story of a brother who gives his sister a lobotomy, one story where the doctors daughter would rather work with insane prisoners than get married and start a family.
Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain is a tour de force. Not only is each of Kirsten Menger-Anderson's stories a gem in and of itself, but the collection as a timeline of the remarkably whacky whims of psychiatry over the years—blood- letting, lobotomies, and spontaneous combustion. The genetic outreaches of one remarkable family allow us to follow through the ages how different offspring have tested the fringes of medicine from the 1600s through the current time. Wonderful characters. Beautiful writing. A real page-turner!
I recommend this book if you are a fan of weird but true medical history. Crazy to think they used to do this to people! I really liked the depth of some of the characters, definitely made the story flow. This was a quick read, had me fascinated from start to finish.