Surgery on the Shoulders of Giants: Letters from a doctor abroad by Saqib Noor

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Surgery on the Shoulders of Giants: Letters from a doctor abroad by Saqib Noor

Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Letters home from a junior doctor in some of the most troubled areas of the world. Harrowing, enlightening and uplifting. Saqib Noor popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 253 Date: April 2017
Publisher: Kings X Press
ISBN: 978-1521173190

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The letters begin much in the fashion of any young man away from home, perhaps in a quite exciting country, writing back to family and friends to tell them of his experiences, the sights he's seen and the people he's met. It's just a little different in Surgery on the Shoulders of Giants though: Saqib Noor is a junior doctor, training to be an orthopaedic surgeon and over a period of ten years he visited six countries, not as a tourist but to give medical assistance. They're countries which Noor describes as fourth world - third world with added disaster - and their need is desperate.

Back in 2008 Noor went to South Africa and the early letters do reflect a young man on an exciting journey, but gradually something else creeps in: in the early stages he was almost reluctant to share his deeper thoughts about the state of the country - and the medical services - but he opens up and shares what he's really thinking. Sometimes it's the frustrations of the environment he's working in: occasionally he celebrates a success, but throughout you're going to hear the genuine voice of a concerned and dedicated doctor.

I was touched by a comment from Noor before he left South Africa:

I have been enlightened. I feel God in all His people and in their goodness and kindness. And that we are all equal. And that we all have the same beating heart and the same red blood running through it, no matter our colour, or our culture or our religion. I have met different people, but have only seen one world.

In between his stints abroad Noor would be back in the UK, but he's always found it difficult to resist a genuine call for help from countries which have so little. Less than a year after leaving South Africa he was in Haiti helping to deal with the aftermath of the devastating earthquake which struck in January 2010. I followed much of the television coverage at the time, but nothing brought home to me the sheer chaos of dealing with hundreds of thousands of victims in a third world country. Noor deals with the subject sensitively, but nothing can make the subject any less harrowing.

Harrowing for different reasons was the trip to Pakistan not many months after returning from Haiti. In July 2010 monsoon rains flooded the Indus river and one-fifth of the country's total land area was affected by floods of biblical proportions. Like Haiti there were immense problems dealing with all the casualties, but they were compounded by the corruption which is endemic in the Pakistan. Noor's letter home about the corruption explains why no one trusts the Pakistani government - it makes for frightening reading.

Cambodia suffered from the debilitating effects of war. Noor's trip to Ethiopia was a short one - a mere couple of weeks but with much to be learned. Myanmar had need of expertise in bone cancers and a return trip to Haiti completed a decade of travelling. Writing in late 2016 Noor says that he might not be wealthy in monetary terms but he has made his peace with God and is truly the richest man in the world.

The book is very readable, if harrowing and frightening in places, but it's the sort of book where you quickly succumb to 'just another chapter' syndrome and a book which I expected to read over several days was finished in less than twenty four hours. I'd like to thank the publisher for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

There's an obvious comparison here with Paul Kalanithi but you might also like to have a look at Admissions: A Life in Brain Surgery, the second volume of memoirs from brain surgeon Henry Marsh - it's the one in which he tells of his work abroad.

Bookinterviews.jpg Saqib Noor was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.

Buy Surgery on the Shoulders of Giants: Letters from a doctor abroad by Saqib Noor at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Surgery on the Shoulders of Giants: Letters from a doctor abroad by Saqib Noor at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Surgery on the Shoulders of Giants: Letters from a doctor abroad by Saqib Noor at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Surgery on the Shoulders of Giants: Letters from a doctor abroad by Saqib Noor at Amazon.com.


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