The doctor and novelist, whose new novel is ''The Covenant of Water,'' keeps a bookcase full of self-help books on marriage and relationships : ''Ironic considering I've been divorced twice. But hope springs eternal.''

.-  What book, if any, most influenced your decision to become a doctor?

That would be W. Somerset Maugham's '' Of Human Bondage. '' Philip, the young protagonist, tries to become an artist in Paris but painfully discovers that he doesn't have the talent.

He retreats to London and goes to medical school instead. The first few years are sheer drudgery until he arrives on the wards.  He finds that he is less shy with patients than he has ever been with others, and he sees ''humanity there in the rough.''

Somehow, when I read those words as an overachieving student in high school, it suggested to me that anyone with a curiosity and empathy for their fellow human beings and a willingness to work hard could be a good physician and be rewarded by work that has great meaning.

.-  What books are on your nightstand?

The stack reflects the overlapping compartments of my life : Daniel Mason's '

'' North Woods '' [in galley form] '' Images of Memorable Cases : 50 Years on the Bedside,'' by Herbert L. Fred and Hnedrik A. van Dijk; '' The Best Strangers in the World,'' by Ari Shapiro; '' The Passenger,'' by Cormac McCarthy; and the bottom, the two volumes of ''Harrison's Principles Internal Medicine,'' a book that I've has a love affair with ever since I encountered the seventh edition in 1974.

My ambition is always to read it cover to cover before the next edition, but for the last five editions I haven't come close. In my defense, it's 4,384 pages.

.- What's the last great book you read?

'' The Love Songs of W.E.B.Du Bois,'' by Honoree Fanannoe Jeffers. I'm drawn to big epic novels, and this was all that at over 800 pages [ but still, a pamphlet compared to ''Harrison's''].

.- Are there any classic novels that you only read for the first time?

I had only sampled Saul Bellow [ '' Humboldt's Gift '' ] when I was in my 20s. I picked up '' The Adventures of Augie March '' during the darkest days of the Covid pandemic. I found it stunning. It left me no choice but to systematically read everything of his.

I had a similar reaction '' The Brothers Karamazov, '' another recent read; it made me go back and better appreciate '' Crime and Punishment '' and to commit to read all of Dostoyevsky's oeuvre.

I think editors today would take a red pen to Dostoyevsky's long digressions, but to me those are  integrals to his charm.

.-  What's your favorite book no one else has heard of?

''The Citadel,'' by A.J. Cronin, isn't as well known in America as in Britain and the Commonwealth. The oppressive conditions described in the fictional Welsh mining town so captivated the public's imagination that it ostensibly shares responsibility for the creation of the National Health Service.

A generation of physicians outside of America name  '' The Citadel '' as the book that called them to medicine.

.-  What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

I grew up in Ethiopia, the child of Indian parents who were hired there as physics teachers. There was no TV, not until I was a teenager. I was a precocious reader and books were a gateway to a world more exciting than the one I lived in.

I liked Enid Blyton's '' The Secret Seven '' series and. later, ''The Hardy Boys.'' When I discovered C.S.Forester's seafaring novels following the career of the fictional Horatio Hornblower, I felt I had stumbled onto a gold mine. [ I still reread those volumes and they remain just as enjoyable.]

Looking back, by the age of 10 I was clearly on a quest for content that was prurient and salacious. At an early age I stumbled onto ''Lady Chatterley's Lover,'' which quickly demoted the Hornblower books and Dumas's ''The Count of Monte Cristo'' from my list of favorites.

I'm ashamed to say I picked up W. Somerset Maugham's ''Of Human Bondage'' because the title seemed promising!

While it didn't have the lascivious content I'd imagined, it turned out to have something better : It was the book that, as mentioned above, called me to medicine.

.- You're organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

Jim Harrison for sure, because the man can cook plus he'll bring the wine; I am just hoping he won't frighten my other two guests : Virginia Woolf and Flannery O'Connor.

.-  What book do you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn't? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

''Finnegans Wake.'' If anyone knows what the book is about please let me know.  On second thought, don't.

The World Students Society thanks The New York Times.


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