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Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain

Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain

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3.39

(36)
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Published by Workman Publishing
In 1664 Dr. Olaf van Schuler flees the Old World and arrives in New Amsterdam with his lunatic mother, two bags of medical implements, and a carefully guarded book of his own medicines. He is the first in what will become a long line of peculiar physicians. Plagued by madness and guided by an intense desire to cure human affliction, each generation of this unusual family is driven by the science of its day: spontaneous combustion, phrenology, animal magnetism, electrical shock treatment, psychosurgery, genetic research. As they make their way in the world, New York City, too, evolves—from the dark and rough days of the seventeenth century to the towering, frenetic metropolis of today.

Like Patrick Süskind's classic novel Perfume, Kirsten Menger-Anderson's debut is a literary cabinet of curiosities—fascinating and unsettling, rich and utterly singular.
In 1664 Dr. Olaf van Schuler flees the Old World and arrives in New Amsterdam with his lunatic mother, two bags of medical implements, and a carefully guarded book of his own medicines. He is the first in what will become a long line of peculiar physicians. Plagued by madness and guided by an intense desire to cure human affliction, each generation of this unusual family is driven by the science of its day: spontaneous combustion, phrenology, animal magnetism, electrical shock treatment, psychosurgery, genetic research. As they make their way in the world, New York City, too, evolves—from the dark and rough days of the seventeenth century to the towering, frenetic metropolis of today.

Like Patrick Süskind's classic novel Perfume, Kirsten Menger-Anderson's debut is a literary cabinet of curiosities—fascinating and unsettling, rich and utterly singular.

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Publish date: Oct 9, 2008
Added to Scribd: Jul 19, 2012
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reservedISBN:9781565126718
List Price: $11.99

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12/09/2014

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9781565126718

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Publishers Weekly reviewed this
Menger-Anderson's vivid and original collection follows several generations of New York doctors and charts the social and political forces that shaped New York City from the 17th century to today. Dr. Olaf van Schuler emigrates from Holland to New Amsterdam in 1664 and continues his study of animal brains. After he has a child by Adalind Steenwycks, each subsequent generation spins out in its own story, concluding with Dr. Elizabeth Steenwycks, the medical researcher daughter of Dr. Stuart Steenwycks, a plastic surgeon dying of a rare and fatal brain malady. Each generation applies the then current medical wisdom to tasks as varied as explaining a death by spontaneous combustion, resuscitating a boy's corpse and using phrenology to predict human behavior. In the early 1970s, Americans' obsession with their body image arises in the woeful tale of Sheila Talbot, 21, whose leaky breast implants hark back to the less-than-helpful medicine practiced in previous generations. The reader can follow how far medicine has advanced, but, surprisingly, note how human suffering and misery hasn't come such a long way. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

2008-06-09, Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly reviewed this
Menger-Anderson's vivid and original collection follows several generations of New York doctors and charts the social and political forces that shaped New York City from the 17th century to today. Dr. Olaf van Schuler emigrates from Holland to New Amsterdam in 1664 and continues his study of animal brains. After he has a child by Adalind Steenwycks, each subsequent generation spins out in its own story, concluding with Dr. Elizabeth Steenwycks, the medical researcher daughter of Dr. Stuart Steenwycks, a plastic surgeon dying of a rare and fatal brain malady. Each generation applies the then current medical wisdom to tasks as varied as explaining a death by spontaneous combustion, resuscitating a boy's corpse and using phrenology to predict human behavior. In the early 1970s, Americans' obsession with their body image arises in the woeful tale of Sheila Talbot, 21, whose leaky breast implants hark back to the less-than-helpful medicine practiced in previous generations. The reader can follow how far medicine has advanced, but, surprisingly, note how human suffering and misery hasn't come such a long way. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

2008-06-09, Publishers Weekly
akblanchard_1 reviewed this
Rated 4/5
This is an interesting experiment in short story writing that does not entirely succeed. Brain follows the descendants of immigrant von Schuler as they make their way through years of quackery and medical fads. Some of the stories make for entertaining reading (such as the one about they innkeeper whose fat, alcoholic wife fell victim to spontaneous human combustion), others not so much (there was a story in the middle of the book that involved a character called the Fool (or something like that) that I couldn’t force my way through).It was irritating that the stories had loose ends that were either tied up in a following story (the reader doesn’t really find out what really happens at the end of the title story until the following one) or not tied up at all (what happened to the Jewish woman who left her family to marry one of Dr. von S’s descendants? According to the family tree at the beginning of the book, she died young, but no where does it tell what happened to her. Was she done in by the radium she took as a homemade fertility treatment? Did people really do that during the 1930’s?).The best of the lot is The Story of Her Breasts. As Aristotle says about tragedy, it succeeded in arousing both pity and fear in me as main character Sheila–a typical 70’s girl–slowly succumbs to silicone-related illness.
miki_8 reviewed this
Rated 3/5
The idea driving the book was a clever one, as it follows the generations of the family through their own special flavors of nuttiness. The author does a great job of pulling in real historical context, making it interesting to see what changes and what doesn't, and it was intellectually interesting to think about the neurological and psychiatric connections between the very different lives of the generations. The writing is engaging enough, and it made for a quick read.But...I finished the book feeling "eh". It's not that there was a crummy ending or anything -- it was just one of those books that was never bad enough to put down, but also never connected with me strongly enough for me to care much what happened. It reads as if the author was far more interested in the idea, and all the literary aspects of executing that idea, than in the actual characters themselves.If I were going to come across this book again, knowing what I know now, I'd probably still pick it up to read, but maybe from the library instead.
foreigncircus reviewed this
Rated 4/5
I just finished this book and have to say I'm charmed. Essentially a series of vignettes that center around several generations of one family, each story is perfectly capable of standing alone. Each generation of the Steenwycks family contains at least one doctor- always on the cutting edge of medicine, often a little bit insane. I liked that some of the stories didn't actually focus on the doctors as much as on the people they treated, and loved that the city of New York itself was such an important character throughout the book.I can understand how the structure could be off-putting to some readers, but I found that it worked well, and allowed for a more nuanced presentation of the Steenwycks family than I think would have been possible using the more typical novel construction.
bachaney reviewed this
Rated 4/5
Kirsten Menger-Anderson's "Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain" traces one New York City family from their arrival in New York in the early 17th century to the modern day. But the family history has a twist--all of the family members share two things--a medical curiosity the leads them to become doctors and a tendency to go crazy. As Menger-Anderson traces the family through history in short vignettes, the depths of the family's insanity becomes clear, as does the fact that no one can escape it. Menger-Anderson's story is intriguing, and the author has a style that keeps you reading to the very end. Each short story begins with a puzzle--why are these people in this situation--and then quickly builds to a climax that keeps you asking more questions. The author takes different approaches to introduce the central family in each story, and each individual's story adds to the overall family puzzle. I really enjoyed this book, and I often enjoy interwoven short stories. But this book may not be for everyone--the narrative thread is only loosely carried from story to story and some of the characters are not very likable. But I would recommend this book--it's a great thinking story.
jibrailis reviewed this
Rated 4/5
In 1664, Dr. Olaf van Schuler moves to New Amsterdam, which will one day become New York City. In the New World he starts a family and that family produces doctor after doctor, running through the generations. Doctor Olaf van Schuler’s Brain is a series of short stories about Olaf van Schuler’s descendants and the brushes they have with science and madness.Menger-Anderson’s writing is excellent. From the very first page she managed to hook me and pull me in. Her stories are short, so every word seems to be carefully chosen for its effect. I liked a lot of the stories too, some better than others (but that’s inevitable in a collection). Like I said in the synopsis, a theme in a lot of the stories is science and madness and how the two intersect in van Schuler’s family. The stories are all very strange, quirky, and often unresolved. They are essentially mysterious, little pieces of time cut out of the family’s history.I didn’t mind that most of the stories were unresolved. I thought it lent the whole book an enigmatic air that I really enjoyed. However, each story is so short that I never learned to feel for any of the characters with the exception of a few buzzing around in the background. Also, even though the stories are short, I never felt like I wanted more. In that sense, Doctor Olaf van Schuler’s Brain is perfectly satisfactory but not exceptional.
moxiehart reviewed this
Rated 3/5
I was so excited when I found out that this was my Early Reviewer book because it was compared favorably to Perfume, which is one of my favorite books. Unfortunately, when you set the bar really high you're bound to be disappointed.The book shares the quirkiness and love of the past with the Perfume. However, it lacks Perfume's complexity and sensuality. Still, it was definitely an enjoyable read. Some stories are much better than others and could probably have been expanded to a novella or novel-length.
myckyee_1 reviewed this
Rated 4/5
Doctor Olaf Van Schuler’s Brain is written as a series of short stories connected to one another through twelve generations of one family,. Each generation of the Steenwycks produces a doctor who in some fashion studies the intricacies of the brain. The writing is excellent and the stories are fascinating – some barbaric, some sad and some metaphorically significant, namely one titled, “A Spoonful Makes You Fertile”. I have to confess, however, that some of the metaphors eluded me. Although short stories are not my favorite format, I had high hopes for this one because of the anticipated connection between the stories – I expected them to tie up very cleverly in the end. I was disappointed. I understood some of the motivations of the characters but not enough to make a correlation down the years. If there was a common theme between the generations aside from a very eccentric ancestral history and the practice of medicine, I missed it. That dissatisfaction aside I give this novel 3 ½ stars because of the superb writing.
kathywoodall reviewed this
Rated 5/5
"Doctor Olaf van Shuler, recently arrived in New Amsterdam with his lunatic mother, two bags of medical implement's, and a carefully guarded book of his own medicines, moved into a one-bedroon house near White Hall and soon found work at the hospital on Brugh Street. There, surrounded by misshapen bottles containing tinctures of saffron, wild strawberry, maple, and oil of amber, as well as more common tools of his trade- amputation saws, scapels, sharpened needles, and long pain stakingly pounded probes- he indulged his peculiar perversion: slicing heads." And so begins the story of Doctor Olaf van Schuler. Most of his life is spent trying to find a cure for his lunatic mother, which he keeps locked up in a crate.Each chapter takes the reader into the life of a doctor who may be just as crazy as the patients they are trying to cure. Each doctor is a descendant of Doctor Olaf van Schuler.One chapter has a doctor performing brain surgery on a patient to remove a stone (possibly a tumor) while he is wide awake setting in a chair. Another one performs a lobotomy on his own sister.Some stories are told from the doctors point of view and others from the patients. You cant tell the doctors care about the people and truly want to help them. Makes a person appreciate the advance in modern medicine. Excellent debut novel.

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