01/09/2007

Ten Fingers for God: the Life and Work of Dr Paul Brand (by Dorothy Clarke Wilson)

I had not come across Dorothy Clarke Wilson's writing before, although she seems to have been fairly prolific, particularly in biographies. I had heard of Paul Brand, mainly due to reading just about everything by Philip Yancey. He was an orthopedic surgeon who was also a pioneer in leprosy research and surgery. moreover, he was the person who first showed that leprosy itself does not cause deformities: it's the lack of pain, a result of leprosy, that causes people to be unaware of situations when they are damaging themselves. This is well known now, but back in the middle of last century nobody had any idea.

When I read 'In the Likeness of God' earlier this year - by Paul Brand and Philip Yancey together - I determined to learn more of this remarkable man. So I put 'Ten Fingers for God' - the full biography of Paul Brand - on my wish-list.

There's an excellent introduction by Philip Yancey, but the main part of the book is by Dorothy Clarke Wilson, and covers Brand's life from birth up to the late 1980s when he had retired. It's very thorough, with plenty of family background and some interesting incidents and anecdotes, although the best of them have been used elsewhere - probably in one of Philip Yancey's books.

I found the book mostly interesting, but a bit heavy-going in places. A huge number of people are mentioned by name - relatives, colleagues, patients - and I found it impossible to keep track of them all. Sometimes a leprosy patient was introduced, with a moving or fascinating story told about him. But then he might be referred to several chapters on - by which time I had totally forgotten who he was. However, since biographies deal in real life and factual incidents, this is perhaps inevitable.

I read the book over about three weeks; I found that a chapter at a time was often enough, as there was so much information and so many people involved. I didn't feel myself drawn to the people as I do in some novels - perhaps this isn't possible in a biography, or perhaps the problem is that the author wasn't herself a fiction writer who specialised in characterisation.

Nonetheless, it's a very readable account of the life, work and ministry of this incredible man, and well worth having. Recommended to anyone who wants to know more about Paul Brand, or about the development of leprosy medicine in the latter part of the 20th century. The Christian emphasis is low-key - Brand was a living example of a man who cared about following God by doing his work, and ministering in practical ways to those who were suffering.

No comments: