Right of Thirst: A Novel

( 5 )

Overview

Shattered by his wife's death, and by his own role in it, successful cardiologist Charles Anderson volunteers to assist with earthquake relief in an impoverished Islamic country in a constant state of conflict with its neighbor. But when the refugees he's come to help do not appear and artillery begins to fall in the distance along the border, the story takes an unexpected turn.

This haunting, resonant tour de force about one man's desire to live a moral life offers a moving ...

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Right of Thirst

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Overview

Shattered by his wife's death, and by his own role in it, successful cardiologist Charles Anderson volunteers to assist with earthquake relief in an impoverished Islamic country in a constant state of conflict with its neighbor. But when the refugees he's come to help do not appear and artillery begins to fall in the distance along the border, the story takes an unexpected turn.

This haunting, resonant tour de force about one man's desire to live a moral life offers a moving exploration of the tensions between poverty and wealth, the ethics of intervention, the deep cultural differences that divide the world, and the essential human similarities that unite it.

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  • Right of Thirst
    Right of Thirst  

Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
“He writes in a surgical fashion—with precision and care, making no sudden metaphorical movements. Huyler’s protagonist resists easy answers or self-congratulatory axioms in examining the ethics of humanitarian intervention
Stewart O'Nan
“Brilliant, start to finish. . . . It’s clear and deep and wise, and very few contemporary novels can make that claim.”
Abigail Zuger
“Dr. Huyler’s writing is quiet, precise, spellbinding from beginning to end. . . . Easily holds with the best contemporary fiction.”
Tom Brokaw
“A book to treasure. It is a riveting tale of our time, at once haunting and inspiring, provocative and insightful. It will stay with me for a long time.”
Ben Fountain
“One of the finest novels I’ve read in years. . . . A timely, powerful exploration into the uses and limits of benevolence . . . the limits of what’s good and decent in the American character.”
Andrew Solomon
“Lyrical, moving, gripping. . . . A dark, compelling story about moral ambition and its pitfalls-a necessary book for this moment in America’s imperial history.”
The New Yorker
“He writes in a surgical fashion—with precision and care, making no sudden metaphorical movements. Huyler’s protagonist resists easy answers or self-congratulatory axioms in examining the ethics of humanitarian intervention
Publishers Weekly

Doctor-author Huyler offers in his first novel (after story collection The Laws of Invisible Things) a clear-eyed if occasionally overwrought exploration of grief and redemption in a refugee camp set in an unnamed mountainous Islamic country. After witnessing his wife's slow death, cardiologist Charles Anderson volunteers to be the doctor at a remote refugee camp set up in the aftermath of an earthquake. He is joined by Elise, a German geneticist studying the DNA of a mountain tribe, and Sanjit Rai, a local military officer assigned to protect the camp. As the days pass and the refugees fail to appear, Anderson questions the motivations of those who put him there and his own reasons for fleeing into the mountains, including his decision to not face his devastated son. Anderson's desire to heal becomes twisted up with the clash between east and west, rich and poor, as well as with regional conflict. The prose is sturdy and evocative in this perhaps too sincere and sentimental exploration of what limited power any given individual has to change the world. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Emergency physician Huyler (The Laws of Invisible Things, 2004, etc.) again makes good use of his medical background in his second novel, about a doctor seeking redemption in a devastated mountain region. After his wife Rachel dies, Charles Anderson feels adrift. His work as a cardiologist no longer consumes him, and son Eric has been estranged by Charles' failure to summon him home in time to say goodbye to his mother. On impulse, the dispirited doctor attends a lecture by aid worker Scott Coles, who describes his organization's relief efforts in an unnamed country (similar to Pakistan) ravaged by a recent earthquake and in constant border conflicts with its neighbor. Charles volunteers, believing that humanitarian work might save him. This is the jumping-off point for a vivid and compassionate narrative whose alien setting and complex protagonist bring new richness to Huyler's writing. At his volunteer post, Charles finds himself in the company of Captain Rai, a brusque military advisor, and Elise, a considerate nurse and researcher. The seven-year-old whose leg he reluctantly amputates, and an unanticipated liaison with Elise, are the unlikely purveyors of hope to the flailing protagonist. But the purpose of his journey escapes him as artillery fire arrives in lieu of refugees. "I'd come all this way for an empty tent city and a one-legged girl. A wind-scoured field of stones on the other side of the earth . . . My plunge into the unknown, my step into this other world, where I hoped to lose myself in an abundance of need-and so few of my hopes had come true." Deepened by Huyler's knowledgeable depiction of improvisational medicine and his gift for poetic narration, this is a resonanttale that eschews easy resolution. A timely, disquieting reflection on mortality, war and the startling dichotomy between the affluent West and the impoverished Third World. Author events in Albuquerque, Phoenix, Santa Fe
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061687549
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/21/2009
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 1,479,967
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author

An emergency physician in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Frank Huyler is the author of the essay collection The Blood of Strangers as well as the novel The Laws of Invisible Things. He grew up in Iran, Brazil, and Japan.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 6 of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2009

    Nor for me~

    Initially I found it intriguing and enjoyed the characters but became bored with it half way through and gave up.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2009

    The Right of Thirst

    An American cardiologist joins a relief effort in an unnamed country that is apparently Pakistan. A captivating novel that avoids simplistic characterizations. Thoughtful and compelling.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A fascinating fictionized look at Western aid.

    Right of Thirst opens with cardiologist Dr. Charles Anderson saying good bye to his wife - as he assists with ending her life.

    With her passing, Charles is lost, functioning but not really living. He attends a lecture by Scott Coles, who has started a relief organization to help earthquake victims in a third world country. On a whim, Charles offers to be the doctor of the refugee camp Coles is setting up.

    "I suppose another world was what I wanted most."

    Charles ends up in an unnamed third world country, high in the mountains, with Scott Cole's girlfriend as the other staff member as well as a resident cook and his nephew. In charge of the camp is military officer Captain Sanjit Rai.

    But the refugees don't come. When they attempt to make contact with the local village, Rai discourages them. Anderson's skills are needed to help with a local child, but that is the extent of the use of his medical skills. They are visited by further military personnel, as there may be enemy action in the area, but still the camp remains empty of refugees.

    Frank Huyler has created a powerful character driven novel. The interplay between the three main characters, each from a different world and their views on class, aid and life are compelling.

    The title 'Right of Thirst' had me mystified in the beginning. It is explained part way through the novel and I think it is the catalyst for the entire plot.

    "Our religion came from the desert. From Arabia. Water was very precious to them. And so one of our oldest laws is that we must give water to travelers. that is why we always give tea to our guests."

    "Offering tea is an obligation?"

    "Yes. In our scripture this is called the right of thirst."

    Right of Thirst explores the obligation that Western countries and populace feel to provide aid to countries that they have deemed in need. What happens when that offering is not embraced? Charles has mixed feelings when he is at the camp. He is angry and annoyed at the local population for not being suitably impressed and thankful for what is being done for them.

    "What is wrong with you people? Why do you do this? I'd like to know why I came all this way for nothing."

    The reply make him even more unhappy.

    "We did not ask you to come here. And now that you cannot be a hero, you are angry. You are trying to help yourself, not us."

    Huyler's writing is beautiful. The detail and thought in every exchange and description is worth stopping, rereading and savouring. The juxtaposition between Western idealism and Third World reality is explored in this thought provoking and timely novel. Huyler himself is a physician and has lived in various countries. His work has a ring of authenticity. I found it especially interesting as I had just read and reviewed a memoir of a young doctor in a refugee camp.

    Highly recommended. A portion of sales from this book are being donated to ProSorata by the author.

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    Posted September 10, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing 1 – 6 of 5 Customer Reviews

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