Mastering the Knife
Mastering the Knife reaches beyond the purely personal to convey something of the people, period, and places that made the author. Working sometimes like a memoirist and sometimes like an anthropologist or ethnographer, he lifts a veil on the rites, rituals, rules (written and unspoken), and language of medicine, especially surgery.
Meguid is a masterful storyteller, and the story that he seems to have lighted on is about the peculiar mixture of temperament, intellect, skill, circumstance, discipline and luck that go into the making of a remarkable life. Some powerful forces are arrayed against him, of course: racism and xenophobia as well as parental cruelty, neglect and abandonment. The author gets a lot of narrative momentum from the sense of pushing against the forces—even the ones inside his own head—agitating for defeat and failure.
Scenes are captured the drama of a particular moment in very few words. Much of the dialogue is crisp. Sometimes it’s laugh-out-loud funny. Whenever the author turns his descriptive powers on a place—whether landscape or structure—the writing turns vivid and evocative. Much of the prose about the practice of medicine or surgery, as seen through the eyes of a student, is precise and memorable. The reader finds herself being educated through Meguid’s eyes.
We follow him to the prestigious London University Medical School where he is the ultimate outsider, an Egyptian in a lily white, elitist English world. But he prevails, and in the end, Meguid finds belonging, love, affection, and a fulfilling career that takes him to Harvard in historical Boston for a planned surgical residency. Throughout medical school in London Dr. Meguid illuminates a path filled with rejection, longing, sadness, relentless pursuit, and ultimately fulfillment, joy and unbridled success. You owe it to yourself to join him on his life’s adventure.”