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4.0 out of 5 stars The Amazing Life of Alexandre Yersin, 27 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Plague and Cholera (Kindle Edition)
This is less a novel than a rather imaginative biography. Its subject is Alexandre Yersin [1863-1943].
Yersin was among the first of a legion of scientists who were to work at the famous Pasteur Institute in Paris. He made numerous contributions to microbiology, principally discovering the plague bacillus, Yersinia pestis. The author also shows him to have been a pioneer in several other fields - astronomy, aviation, photography, horticulture to name but a few. He established medical education in Indochina. Today he is venerated in Vietnam, a land he made his home and where he is buried. A remarkable man, deserving of a study.
Often the lives of "famous doctors" are recounted by their fellow-professionals. We see the subject mainly at work in the laboratory or on the ward. A few anecdotes are thrown in to humanize the "great man". The style is worthy but dull.
This is more of a literary essay, quite short, given the achievements of Yersin. Deville places him in the coterie of the Pasteur set. We meet Roux, Calmette, Simond and others as well as the founder himself. We also learn of contemporaries from the arts scene - Joseph Conrad, Céline [who did a PhD at the Pasteur] and especially Rimbaud. Apollinaire and Baudelaire are discussed, too. "Filthy politics" - as Yersin would have it - impacts on the tale: Koch and Pasteur carry on the wars of France and Germany under the microscope. Yersin's bacteriological discoveries are in here, but as but one aspect of a fantastically filled life. He did so much that most things can be but touched on.
I don't think Plague and Cholera is really a novel - there are no fictional characters and no plot. As a biography, it is unusual - it reads like the author is flicking through a photograph album, stopping every now and then to point out something you may not have noticed, skipping the recordings of awards and the prizes for a sepia-tinged shot of a Cambodian plateau.
I had only heard of Y Pestis before I read this. Its discoverer was a truly exceptional individual. I would like to know more no about him and his world.
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