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My Name Is Why by Lemn Sissay: A Blistering Memoir

When the poet Lemn Sissay was 14 years old, he carved the initials NG into his hand. The letters represented what he believed to be his name: Norman Greenwood. Years later he discovered that was a lie and his real identity had been deliberately buried for most of his life.

An even more painful discovery followed. He’d always felt unwanted by his natural mother, given to understand by social workers and foster parents that she’d put him up for adoption. Only when he left the care system did the full extent of the deception come to light. Within his case files was a letter from his mother, written in 1968 when he was one year old, pleading for social workers to return her son.

Life Built From Lies

“They lied to me. Someone did love me. My mother”, Sissay writes in his deeply affecting memoir My Name Is Why.

The book recounts a 34-year campaign to retrieve his entire case file from Wigan council, the Yorkshire authority into whose care he was placed upon his birth in 1967. He was finally granted access to the file in 2015.

The documents revealed his true name, that his mother was Ethiopian and had put her son in the care of social workers when she was forced to return home to care for her dying father. But she had refused to sign any adoption papers.

In Sissay’s eyes, the care system completely failed him. It had stolen him, imprisoned him, placed him with inappropriate foster parents, moved him from one institution to another and spat him out at the end without family, name or history. It left him feeling unloved, lacking in self worth, and questioning whether he was to blame for everything that had gone wrong in his life.

Questions Of Care

His memoir is an attempt to answer how this could have happened. How a state could steal a child and keep it secret. But Lemn Sissay is also asking why. A significantly appropriate question because in Amharic, the language of his mother’s people, the surname Sissay means why.

My Name Is Why places Sissay’s recollections – in chronological order – of his experiences in the care system, alongside grainy extracts from social workers’ reports and letters. The juxtaposition reveals the gaps between the official interpretation of “Norman’s” behaviour and his own account, with inconsistencies repeatedly challenged and rebutted by Sissay.

Placed as a black child in a white, middle-class deeply religious family, Sissay was repeatedly told by his foster parents they were the only people willing to take in a “coloured” baby.

Tensions within the home were evident from a young age but became more prevalent as Sissay grew older, particularly after his foster parents had their own children. Sissay felt increasingly estranged from the family, accused of everything from stealing biscuits, to losing his temper and threatening to kill his brother. An accusation that Sissay rejects utterly.

Home was now hell. I couldn’t do anything right. The better I did, the worse I was treated. I was deceitful. I was tricking everyone into thinking I was a good kid. For the life of me I didn’t understand.

Life Without Love

When he reached the age of 12, his foster parents said they’d had enough. The boy would have to go. The day Sissay left for a children’s home he tried to hug his foster mum. But she and her husband were already disappearing inside the house.

It was the last time he saw or heard from them. No birthday cards. No Christmas presents. None of his clothes or books from his first home were ever sent to him. Sissay spent the next five years in a succession of homes, his mental health suffering under the weight of bullying, feelings of utter rejection and alienation because of his colour. The physical cruelty and strip searches experienced in his final institutional “home” caused Sissay nightmares until he reached his forties.

Every page of this book speaks of a social care system that was meant to help and support vulnerable children, proving singularly inadequate to the task. Though the official records do show a few sparks of sensitivity, particularly from his main social worker, they are few and far between. In the main what we find is his every stage in life recorded “click, clack, clack” in cold officialise.

“Staff meeting with appropriate social workers regarding control,” reads a typical report. Another reads:

The child has an extrovert personality and is attention-seeking. He is bright academically but unable to sustain long periods of concentration and is therefore disruptive in classroom situations.

No questions are ever posed in this report about why the child sought attention in school and was there any connection with the lack of attention he felt he received at home. School officials and social workers just view him as a problem child who has to be dealt with, rather than understood.

Blistering Indictment Of Care System

My Name Is Why is a blistering, unputdownable memoir that touches on the nature of social care, identity and family and how it feels to grow up believing no-one loves you. I was engrossed from the first page until the last, alternately feeling deeply sad and incredibly angry at the inhumane treatment of this child. The UK social care system does undertake some fantastic work, often in the most trying of circumstances, but when it gets it wrong – as it so evidently did in this case – the scars last a lifetime.

It’s astonishing to contemplate the extent of Sissay’s resilience, the strength that enabled him to come through this ordeal without irrevocable damage. No-one, least of all Sissay himself, could have imagined this troubled, disruptive child would become a renowned poet, a university chancellor and a Booker prize judge. But I couldn’t help reflect as I got to the end of the book about all the other youngsters subjected to the same institutional care system but who never made it.

My Name is Why by Lemn Sissay: EndNotes

About the book: My Name is Why was published by Canongate in 2019

About the author: Lemn Sissay released his first book of poetry in 1988 at the age of 21. Since the age of 24 he has been a full-time writer, performing internationally.

He became the official poet of the 2012 London Olympics, has been chancellor of the University of Manchester since 2015. He was awarded the 2019 PEN Pinter Prize, a prize awarded to writers who take an “unflinching, unswerving” view of the world.

In Order To Live by Yeonmi Park: Courageous Bid For Freedom

Front cover of In Order to Live, a memoir of a North Korean girl by Yeonmi Park

In her memoir In Order To Live, Yeonmi Park lifts the veil of secrecy that surrounds life in the brutal and paranoid dictatorship of North Korea.

Its leadership loves to posture on the international stage, getting into stand-offs with the US and South Korea and using parades and rocket launches to show off its military might.

One thing that’s harder to discover is what really goes on inside  the so-called “hermit kingdom.” Visitors are not welcome and the media is so strictly controlled that few details ever make their way outside the borders, unless through the testimonies of defectors.

Childhood In World of Fear

Yeonmi Park defected in 2007, spending the next two years in constant fear that she would be discovered and returned to North Korea, to face either starvation or imprisonment. In Order To Live is her frank account of a childhood in a country where mind control, servitude and fear are used to subjugate an entire population.

Her family was initially prosperous but their status plummeted when her father was imprisoned for trading on the black market. Her mother was then taken in for questioning and other family members were penalised. Without the required status, Yeonmi’s future hopes of attending university and training as a doctor, evaporated. Soon after, the family began a decline that they believed would end only one way – death through malnutrition.

At the age of 13 she and her mother fled the country, escaping to China in a perilous night-time journey across a frozen river. They believed they had reached freedom only to discover in the first hour on Chinese soil they had been duped. Though they had food they were the victims of human trafficking.

We had come to a bad place, maybe even worse than the one I left.

Park’s narrative chronicles the pair’s harrowing ordeal over two years when they were exploited by Chinese marriage brokers. It took another dangerous journey, walking across the Gobi desert at night, in sub zero temperatures, to escape into Mongolia and subsequently to South Korea.

Today Yeonmi Park is a human rights activist, speaking out against the North Korean regime and appealing to the world to help the people still suffering in her home country. She got that coveted university place, became a television personality (appearing on a talk and talent show featuring North Korean defectors) married and became a mother.

Confronting The Past

It’s an astonishing and powerful story. One that Park was initially reluctant to tell, wanting – understandably – to put the past behind her and to blend more easily into her new life. But she realised that in order to be “completely free,” she had to confront the truth of her past. The turning point was when she read a line from Joan Didion: “We tell our stories in order to live.”

I felt the truth of those words echoing inside me. I understand that sometimes the only way we can survive our own memories is to shape them into a story that makes sense out of events that seem inexplicable.

It’s a remarkable book. Questions have apparently been raised about the accuracy of her narrative and inconsistencies between different accounts of her experience. I suspect that she has skirted over some details of her time in China and her relationship with her handler. But I’m left in no doubt from reading this book that Yeonmi is a young woman who has huge reserves of strength and determination to survive against tremendous odds.

Reading To Live

When she arrived in South Korea, for example, she had the education level of an eight year old. But she was determined to achieve her goal of a university place. When local schools didn’t meet her study requirements, , she stayed home and just read.

…all I did was read. I inhaled books like other people breathed oxygen. I didn’t just read for knowledge or pleasure. I read to live. … I read to fill my mind and to block out the bad memories.

As much as her story pulls on the heartstrings, it was Yeonmi’s reflections on opinions among North Korean people towards their leadership that I found particularly interesting.

She skilfully details the ways in which North Koreans are taught from birth that their leaders are like all-powerful gods. Such is the level of indoctrination that as a child, Yeonmi Park considered it unthinkable to show disrespect for the leadership. Like her classmates she joined enthusiastically in military games (nobody wanted to be on the hated “imperialist American” team ) and believed their leader Kim Jong II to be a benevolent father to his people.

Truth And Reality

Yet there were people, including her father, who (silently) questioned the propaganda of a North Korean socialist paradise. Illegal access to Chinese and South Korean television programmes showed people in “enemy nations” enjoying plentiful food, clothing and reliable power electricity while in North Korea, emaciated bodies regularly turned up in rubbish heaps and the streets were full of people crying for help.

North Koreans have two stories running in their heads at all times, like trains on parallel tracks. One is what you are taught to believe; the other is what you see with your own eyes. It wasn’t until I escaped to South Korea and read a translation of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four that I found a word for this particular condition: doublethink.

This “doublethink” is how you can shout slogans denouncing capitalism in the morning, then browse through the market in the afternoon to buy smuggled South Korean cosmetics.

If you’ve ever wondered how it must feel to live in an oppressive society and to yearn for freedom, this book is one you won’t want to miss. I suspect it’s a selective account, emphasising some of the darker elements to give more of a mass-market, commercial appeal. But it’s no less valuable for that. It’s not only an account of one of the most secretive nations in the world, it’s a narrative that demonstrates the strength of the human spirit and one young woman’s incredible determination to live.

In Order To Live: Endnotes

Portrait photograph of Yeonmi Park, author of In Order to Live , a memoir of a girl who escaped North Korea

Yeonmi Park was born in North Korea in 1993, escaped to China in 2007 and settled in South Korea in 2009. She rose to global prominence after she delivered an emotional speech at the One Young World 2014 Summit in Dublin, Ireland, calling on the world to help the millions of people suffering at the hands of the North Korean regime. Her speech received 50 million views in two days on YouTube and social media

Her memoir In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey To Freedom, was written in collaboration with Maryanne Vollers and published in 2015.

Questions have been raised about the accuracy of some parts of her narrative and inconsistencies in details. For example, whether it was true, as she describes in the book, that her family was so close to starvation that she and her elder sister would forage in the countryside for “wild plants and insects to fill our stomachs”, and her father would eat snow to fill himself.

Yeonmi has defended herself against the accusations in The Diplomat, explaining that some of the inconsistencies were due to her lack of English language skills. She also apologised that her childhood memories were not perfect.

Her co-writer Maryanne Vollers told The Guardian newspaper in 2015 that she had verify Yeonmi’s story through family members and fellow defectors who knew her in North Korea and China. 

2014 Speech at One World conference, Dublin

2015 Interview (BBC)

Ground-Breaking Memoir of A First Lady: Becoming by Michelle Obama

Of the million or so photographs featuring Michelle Obama, two will be forever etched in my memory.

One shows the First Lady of the United States jumping about and getting sweaty with a bunch of kids on the front lawn of the White House.

The other image dates from her first visit to the United Kingdom. During an official reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth II, Michelle Obama put her arm around the monarch.

To say the resulting photographs astonished royal watchers is putting it mildly because touching the Queen is strictly forbidden. It’s not treason as such (an offence that could see you carted off to the Tower of London) but it’s definitely one of the most heinous transgressions of royal protocol.

What was astonishing about both these images was that they turned on their head everything we’d ever seen from previous holders of the role of First Lady.

There’s no position description for the First Lady. But we got used to the idea over the decades that they’re in a supportive role to the star turn of The President. Always gracious, always immaculately dressed; a walking advert for American fashion designers. They can engage in charitable endeavours but rarely speak out about issues.

Michelle Obama broke that mould. Never before had we seen a First Lady dress so casually in sneakers, leggings and t shirts; Never before had we seen her get down and dirty while digging and planting a vegetable patch. And never before had we seen someone so touchy-feely.

Becoming  by Michelle Obama

Her memoir Becoming was similarly ground breaking. It’s the first completely honest account from a First Lady of the experiences that shaped her personality and influenced her attitudes.

It’s a work of stellar storytelling taking us from her modest background in Chicago, through academic success to an unfulfilling career in corporate law. The life she envisaged was “a predictable, control-freak existence – the one with the steady salary, a house to life in forever, a routine to my days.”

But then came the event that changed her life entirely – she was asked to take a young, mega talented law student under her wing during a summer placement. Barak Obama put her life on a completely new trajectory, catapulting her into the uncomfortable world of politics and to the highest office in her country.

Confronting Challenges

It’s a career progression that in some eyes would be considered a fairytale. What I loved most about Becoming is that she is so candid about her struggles and disappointments.

Most of the issues she describes are those that ordinary people can relate to easily. The struggle to balance work with family commitments; the heartbreak of miscarriages and the challenge of maintaining a relationship with a partner who is away from home for much of the week.

Taking up residence in the White House presents a whole new set of difficulties. She can’t open a window because it’s a security risk. She can’t go out with her husband without entire streets being closed down. She can’t even go to a shop to buy him an anniversary card. Being in the public eye means every thing she says or wears is subjected to public scrutiny; even a change of hairstyle has to be agreed in advance by the Presidents’s staff.

Chief of her concerns however is the well-being of her daughters. The constant question for Michelle Obama is how to make sure the girls enjoy a normal childhood experience when they have to be accompanied everywhere by protection offers. Not much fun when you want to go out on your first date.

Dealing With Criticism

And of course, there is the constant threat to her projects from detractors who see her as a threat.

I was female, black, and strong, which to certain people, maintaining a certain mind-set, translated only to ‘angry.’ It was another damaging cliché, one that’s been forever used to sweep minority women to the perimeter of every room, an unconscious signal not to listen to what we’ve got to say.

What comes through strongly is that Michelle Obama is a woman with an exceptionally strong streak of determination. She learned at an early age to never give up and that the best way to deal with people who wanted to thwart her ambition, was to ignore them. It’s an attitude she saw exhibited by many of the highly talented people she met later in life.

All of them have had doubters. Some continue to have roaring, stadium sized collections of critics and naysayers who will shout I told you so at every little misstep or mistake. The noise, doesn’t go away, but the most successful people I know have figured out how to live with it, to lean on the people who believe in them, and to push onward with their goals.

Self -belief is one of the lessons she wants to pass on through the book, as she did with the groups of young women she met throughout her time as First Lady.

Becoming A Role Model

Becoming has been one of my best reading experiences of 2019. It’s an account of extraordinary life told with intelligence, humour, warmth and oodles of self-awareness. 

This is a woman who had a once in a lifetime opportunity to bring about changes. While her husband focused on changing attitudes to healthcare and gun control, she focused on child obesity and job and education opportunities for ex servicemen.

In doing so she became a role model for young women around the world. But Michelle Obama is emphatic at the end of the book that she has no intention of going into politics herself.

I’ve never been a fan of politics, and my experience over the last ten
years has done little to change that.

That doesn’t mean she is going to disappear – the initiatives that she lead while First Lady are so close to her heart that she is continuing to work on them. But what lies ahead is an interesting question. The title of her book refers to the idea that each of us is perpetually changing, evolving, not stopping at some set point — with the implication that we can always become better.  It’s a clue that we can expect to see more of her in the future. A clear case of Watch This Space.

2019 In Non Fiction

The time for vacillation is over. My dilemma whether to join Nonfiction November, was resolved by all the reassurances from bloggers that there’s no expectation to read any more non fiction than normal. So I’m diving in with the first week’s discussion topic.

Julz Reads has given 4 questions all on the theme of Your Year In Non Fiction

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

I’m cheating here by choosing two books. They’re both memoirs which deal with sobering social issues (homelessness and health provision) but do so with a huge dollop of humour.

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn . This is a spectacular book which traces the way Raynor and her husband Moth dealt with the loss of their home and business. Just days after Moth received a devastating medical diagnosis the couple embarked on a 630 mile walk along the South West Coast Path. They experienced the kindness of strangers but also hostility.

This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay . Who would have thought gynaecology could be so funny? Kay reveals some of the bizarre medical emergencies that confronted him as a junior doctor (read this book and you’ll be astonished the things people manage to insert into their bodies). But this book has a serious message – the unbelievable strains imposed on these doctors through lack of funding and indifference.

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

I’ve read 6 non fiction books this year and will shortly finish another; Becoming by Michelle Obama. They had nothing in common except that all but one of these books was a memoir.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

The Salt Path .

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

There are loads of novels that feature historical figures or episodes I know little about so I’m hoping to get some ideas for non fiction books to help fill in those gaps. Next week’s topic is in fact ‘book pairings’ where the idea is to match a fiction and non fiction book on the same topic. I suspect my wishlist will grow as a result.

Six Stunning Must Read Books of 2019

We’ve reached the mid point of 2019. It’s a good time to take a pause and reflect. 

A time to ask yourselves some questions. Have you:

  • kept up with your challenges and projects?
  • nailed that TBR stack?
  • found any knock out, truly brilliant books?

My answers to the above are, in order, partly,  no  and  YES.

I won’t bore you with how much I’m behind on my projects to read my classics club list or the Booker prize winners.   And I’ve already confessed about the rising state of my TBR.

Let’s talk about something far more interesting: six books I’ve read so far this year that were stunning. There’s  a psychological thriller, a classic novel, two memoirs  and two literary fiction titles.

Milkman by Anna Burns 

After a few years when the winning novel in the Booker Prize didn’t set my world alight, in 2018 we finally got a book that absolutely deserved the prize. Milkman by Anna Burns is an intense and powerful novel about trying to survive in a city where to be different, is to be in danger. The unconventional narrative form (no character is ever named) takes a little getting used to but don’t give up. If you do you’ll miss one of the most compelling novels I’ve read in years.

Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell 

Gaskell wasn’t alone among Victorian novelists in her anguish about the plight of workers in the newly industrialised cities. Like Dickens she wrote about their appalling living conditions, sickness and hunger. Mary Barton was her first novel and it’s a no holds barred tale about industrial strife in Manchester. This is a must-read novel for anyone interested in social issues.

The Woman in the Dark by Vanessa Savage 

Vanessa Savage’s debut novel is a spectacular psychological thriller. The Woman in the Dark is a  tale of a family’s descent into crisis when they move into a house whose previous  occupants were murdered. Within this she spins a disturbing narrative about the legacy of child abuse. Just one warning before you begin reading this: you’ll lose lots of sleep because you won’t be able to put it down .

The Salt Path  by Raynor Winn

Imagine you’ve lost your home and your business. You have nothing but a few hundred pounds in your savings. Your husband has just been diagnosed with a degenerative brain condition. Faced with that situation Raynor Winn decided to take a walk. Rather a long walk. Six hundred miles in fact. The Salt Path is her account of walking the coastal path, camping wild and encountering hostility because strangers thought they were untouchable homeless vagrants.  This is a memoir that can make you angry but it will also make you laugh because Winn has a wonderful eye for the absurd situations in life.

This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay

Adam Kay was a hospital doctor specialising in obstetrics for six years and kept a diary of his time on the front line of healthcare. This is Going to Hurt is  astonishingly funny but also sobering because Kay shows how poorly junior doctors are treated. Underpaid and expected to work well beyond their contracted  hours, the job puts a strain on friendships and relationships. This is an astonishingly frank novel but despite his criticisms, Kay is still a firm believer in the principles of public healthcare.

Circe  by Madeline Miller 

This was a book I wasn’t looking forward to reading. I did so only because it was selected by the other book club members.  But this re-imagining of Circe (the Greek sorceress who gets a brief mention in Homer’s Odyssey) was a revelation. Miller’s descriptions of the world inhabited by the Titans among the Greek gods is breathtaking. If you’ve not yet read this, do yourself a huge favour and go out now and buy a copy. You won’t be sorry.

Those are my six choices for the first half of 2019. It will be interesting to see if any of them still make the cut when I come to the end of the year.

What would you choose from your own reading so far this year? Any knock out reads for you?

Scandalous secrets of how hospital doctors are treated

This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay: book review

If you’ve ever required treatment at a National Health Service hospital, you’ll know how frustrating that can be:

  • Lengthy waits to see a specialist/consultant.
  • Clinic appointments  running hours behind schedule
  • Surgery dates postponed or cancelled.

Sound familiar?

It’s easy to feel after those experiences, that the much-lauded public health service in the UK has reached a breaking point. That it’s on the point of collapse.

Adam Kay’s memoirs make it evident it’s the selfless efforts of junior doctors that prevent it from collapsing.

Equally clear however is that their dedication comes at a huge personal cost.

This is Going to Hurt is a painfully honest memoir from one junior doctor  on the frontline of the NHS.  Adam Kay worked in hospitals for six years. He hung up his stethoscope in 2010 after a traumatic experience with a mother and baby in his surgery.

I’ve read enough newspaper reports to know that junior hospital doctors (those below consultant level) are poorly paid and over-worked. In 2016, in a bitter dispute over employment contracts, they staged the first strike in the history of the NHS. The dispute was settled only this week.

Undermined by bureaucracy

What I hadn’t realised until reading Adam Kay’s book was how much these professionals are undervalued and their expertise undermined.

Junior doctors give up their personal time and put marriages and friendships at risk rather than walk away from patients whose lives are in danger.

Yet scandalously ….

….they get charged for parking their car at the hospital.  And fined when they over-stay ( even when their delay was caused by an emergency patient);

… doctors have to find their own cover when they inconveniently fall ill and

… they are not allowed to sleep on a  spare patient bed after an 18 hour shift. They have to make do with a chair.

I was astounded to discover just how relentlessly gruelling are the lives of junior doctors.  The system makes it virtually impossible for them to have any kind of life outside their work.

It was not unusual for Kay to work a 100 hour week.

He describes times when he fell asleep in his car, in the hospital grounds, or at the traffic lights. Once he nodded off while sitting on an operating theatre stool waiting for his patient to be wheeled in.

On one occasion he was recalled from a long overdue holiday in Mauritius because the doctor meant to be covering his shift was ill. The  hospital refused to pay for a locum. He lost count of the number of  anniversaries, birthdays, weddings and theatre performances he missed “because of work.”

What kept him going was the positive feeling he would get after a shift in which he delivered multiple babies or aided infertile couples to become parents.

Comedy amid the tragedy

Although Kay doesn’t hold back from describing tense situations, when the life of his patient hung on a thread, he balances the darkness with flippancy and witty repartee.

When the doctors and nurses are not attending to patients, they’re busy swapping jokes and anecdotes about the bizarre conditions presented by some of their patients. I suspect this is the kind of black humour often used by police officers and firemen.  It’s a kind of release valve for people working in the emergency services.

Adam Kay has plenty of stories.

There’s the one about the drunken woman who climbed over a fence to get away from policemen. She slipped and ended up in emergency with a metal pole thrust through her vagina. After removal she calmly asked if she could take the pole home as a souvenir.

Or the tale of another woman who secreted a Kinder egg containing an engagement ring, intending to give her boyfriend the surprise of his life. It worked, though maybe not the way she intended, when the egg got stuck…

As a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology he encountered a surprisingly large number of people who arrived at hospital with foreign objects in their rectums. The staff are so familiar with the problem they’ve even found a name for it: “Eiffel syndrome” (to understand the joke you need to say the following words aloud – “I fell, doctor! I fell!”).

Not all encounters generate humour. Medical staff are often confronted by aggressive patients and family members, or patients who make unreasonable demands. There’s a particularly yucky case he mentions in which an expectant mother wants to eat her placenta. He gets his revenge by ‘accidentally’ revealing the gender of the baby to the most aggressive of the expectant parents.

Lack of investment

This Is Going to Hurt swings between flippancy and  frustration. Some of Adam Kay’s criticism is  directed at hospital administrators for their propensity to introduce ever more new rules. But he lays the greatest blame on the shoulders of politicians who had failed to invest in the NHS over several years, leading to staff demoralisation.

My over-riding impression however is that Adam Kay loved the NHS and preferred to work in the public sector even when private practice would have been more financially rewarding.

Asked to represent the medical profession at a school’s careers event he decides honesty is the best approach:

So I told them the truth: the hours are terrible, the pay is terrible, the conditions are terrible; you’re under-appreciated, unsupported, disrespected and frequently physically endangered. But there’s no better job in the world.

This was a fabulously engaging book that was a good companion to Do No Harm by the neurosurgeon Henry Marsh that I read earlier this year.

Funny, informative and poignant it ends on a note of frustration, particularly when Kay describes the agonising event that prompted his resignation. It let to the death of both baby and mother following a caesarian operation. Although Kay had followed all the correct procedures, he still blamed himself. He suffered a period of depression but was not given any therapy by the hospital or allowed time off to recover. After a few months he handed in his resignation.

This Is Going to Hurt: footnotes 

This is Going to Hurt was published in 2017 by Picador.

It’s written in the form of diary entries that were maintained by Kay during his medical training and his time as a hospital doctor.  The diaries were intended as a  “reflective practice” in which he could log any interesting clinical experiences he experienced. He used the material, suitably anonymised to write his book.

He has since embarked on a career as a comedian and scriptwriter. His new book Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas, is published in October 2019.

Read an interview with him in The Guardian newspaper.

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