THE HEART Maylis de Kerangal
How do we understand the exchange of a death for a life? How do we understand what devastates one group of people and yet what invigorates another? Why are hospitals so rarely the settings for works of serious contemporary novels? Think about the doctors, nurses (Mary Jane Morris, John Owen, John Guerrant and Peter Ham) and the litany of staff at UVA’s place of healing and health – the UVA Medical Center! THE HEART’s setting takes place in 24 hours and 39 minutes and instructs the reader with emotional intensity and florid imagery of the lives of those who bring new life from death. I confess that this mystery, organ transplants were for me, simply a “check-box” on my driver’s license. It was a thought without full understanding and little compelling response.
I believe this novel brings us, those of faith, into dialogue with humanity in ways we may need to more thoughtfully engage. The scientific process of organ transplants may be a transforming contribution to “making and keeping human life human.” This book bring us closer to a deeper understanding of a procedure with deep appreciation for those whose lives shape and make possible this process, those who have a deep appreciation of the risk and yet can bring promise and hope of a new life in a deeper more intense way.
This novel was read in one setting by Atul Gwande, the surgeon-author of Being Mortal (also in the WPC Library). It was read in my book club and provided one of the longest and most personally engaging discussions after years of monthly reading many “good books” together. I urge you to take a peek and follow the fictional (although very realistic) story of a young man involved in a fatal accident, his loving parents, the doctors, nurses, staff and medical community across these united states. Those whose skills, humane respect, and unique lives, take a tragic accident and death and gave new life to a 51- year old patient with myocarditis whose need for a heart is literal and immediate. Was she a worthy recipient? Does she deserve such an awesome terrible gift? She is loved by her three sons, her mother and a man in her village; she is also plagued by the thought that she can never thank the stranger – she’ll never know his name – this person who gives her a second chance to life.
READ – CONTEMPLATE. Contemplate a story you may have heard somewhere before. Maybe we will want to check the box on our driver’s license?
Notation: In a recent Virginia Museum of Fine Arts magazine there was an ad for United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). This was noting a fundraising event for the national nonprofit based in Richmond which matches lifesaving organs from deceased donors to those in need on the national waiting list. UNOS is a 501c(3) organization that is partially funded by your tax deductible contributions.” Never prior to reading THE HEART have I seen reference to such a group!!!! This book opened my eyes!!