4 out of 4 stars
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McDowell, a character-driven story by William H. Coles primarily focuses on the life of Hiram McDowell. His life is full of achievements. He is an acclaimed surgeon of the International College of Surgeons, the chief founder of a modern hospital in Nepal, and a proficient mountaineer. The means behind this remarkable success is not completely straightforward, though. However, one crisis after another gradually drives him to a point from which there is no turning back. How can Hiram survive the defamation and find his way back to normalcy?
Hiram is typically portrayed as a conceited, ruthless man without scruples. Not only that, he is completely oblivious to his shortcomings. Unable to grasp the idea that he might be guilty or responsible for what happens to him, he repeatedly tries to justify himself. Although this irked me initially, I came to realize that we all tend to victimize ourselves and blame others occasionally. Hiram’s flaws thus serve as an eye-opener for all of us.
What I liked the best about the book was the gradual evolution of the characters. It was fascinating to see how the characters’ lives were altered through their contact with other people. It is not only Hiram who changed direction, but he also made lasting impacts on the lives of those he met. Thus, McDowell becomes a story of atonement for many of the characters.
Coles presents us with a profound question in his book. What is the purpose of our life? Can success be described in terms of fame and monetary gain? Is there some ultimate goal we all are trying to achieve? Along with Hiram, Coles makes the readers contemplate the answer.
Coles introduced a few thought-provoking issues in his book. Foremost among them was Hiram’s opinion on euthanasia. There is also a slight nudge to the theory of ‘nature vs nurture’ in shaping a person’s behavior. I love books that make the readers ponder, and McDowell did not disappoint me in that aspect.
The author puts emphasis on the diversity of culture in different parts of the world. I liked the glimpses into the cultural practices of Nepal. I could only marvel at his descriptions of the differences between various North American cities.
Coles follows his own advice on writing a memoir with objectivity. Throughout the book, he presents Hiram McDowell just as he is and the readers are free to make their own judgment. This is evident in the following quote:
The book was considerably fast-paced with short chapters and smooth flow, an attribute that is fairly uncommon in character-driven stories. Instead of building up the tempo slowly, the author maintained a constant pace culminating in an apt climax.Make him human...We can’t characterize him as a monster. We have to present the truth of everything he’s done, then let the reader find the monster or the saint.
However, my views of this book are not without complaints. I felt the female characters were portrayed as insecure, desperate and sometimes overly clingy. Conversely, almost all the major male characters maintain a devil-may-care attitude. Another technical issue I noticed was the inconsistent use of italics. Initially used to indicate prologues and inner thoughts, later entire conversations were written in italics.
Despite this, the book gets a well-deserved 4 out of 4 stars from me. There were a few misspelled words which did not detract from the reading experience. I wholeheartedly recommend McDowell to the readers who like character-driven books. However, a few of the scenes might be unsuitable for the younger readers.
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