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Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab

by Christine Montross

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BODY OF WORK is, I suppose, pretty much what its subtitle, MEDITATIONS ON MORTALITY FROM THE HUMAN ANATOMY LAB, promises it will be. I think I wanted it to be more memoir than it was, but then that's just me, not the author's fault. I found it to be, overall, only mildly interesting. The sections which dwelled on the history of medicine and medical training seemed to slow the flow of the narrative, and I found myself skimming over these parts.

It was only when Montross let herself get personal, when she reflected on the woman whose body she was systematically dismembering and studying, wondering who she might have been, what her life was like, that I found myself caught up. There is certainly much here that does cause one to pause and consider the very thin line between life and death.

But to my mind Montross's writing is at its very best when she allows herself to talk about her family. Her childhood, spent happily at Higgins Lake, in northern Michigan. And, most of all, those several pages she gives us about her grandparents. That glimpse into their lives when they were very young and in love, their hurried wartime wedding and the long and loving marriage that ensued, and, finally, their declining health. Those pages moved me deeply, perhaps because I am now closer to her grandparents' age than I am to hers. Montross, who studied creative writing and is, besides being a doctor, a poet, is without question a fine writer. I will recommend this book, particularly to anyone who is interested in medicine and its practice.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER ( )
  TimBazzett | Apr 20, 2016 |
I really enjoyed this book, probably because I could relate so much of what the author described to my own experiences with cadaveric dissection - everything from trying to find the right balance of humor and respectfulness in the lab, to the rush of emotions you feel when you see that your cadaver has painted fingernails (ours were a pearly pink), a stark reminder that she was once a living and breathing human being and not just a lab specimen. The historical bits were interesting as well, and reading this book made me really want to get back to the the lab again. ( )
  cait815 | Apr 1, 2013 |
Fascinating account of Brown University medical student's description of a gross anatomy class. Ohh. I'd like to take anatomy sometime! The description of the human body, dissection of various organs and systems was great -- the part about her personal life I could have done without. Who cares! ( )
  lnlamb | May 31, 2010 |
I read this as research for something I'm writing, but it is amazing and beautiful and striking. It also has some wonderfully gruesome history in it. ( )
  AHibbert | Mar 13, 2010 |
Intelligent, intriguing, beautiful, horrible.....all these words accurately describe this memoir of a young woman's entry into the world of the human anatomy lab.

Christine began her journey with unbridled anticipation of what she would encounter during her first semester at medical school. What she experienced was far beyond anything she had imagined.

The author takes the reader through a first hand look at groups of young, inexperienced med students as they gather around "their" corpse in the anatomy lab. There are eighteen corpses to go around, with four or five students per corpse.

Between her strongly emotional and physical reactions to this experience, and her surprising emotional attachment to "her" corpse, whom they named Eve, the author takes us through the many changes that the practice of dissection of the body has gone through since the early, early times in Europe and how the physicians during that time often had to resort to grave robbing in order to provide their students and themselves bodies to use for dissection and learning, due to the banishment of the practice by the Catholic church at that time.

Christine also writes of her intense feelings of invasion into Eve's body, but also the gratitude of the gift that Eve gave in order for these students to learn from. Throughout the semester, the reader watches as Christine grows more and more sure of herself as she gets familiar with the human anatomy, in a way that no textbook could provide. But also the reader sees Christine come of age in recognizing the true humanity in each person she comes into contact with during her rounds, and finding her place as a physician in the world of illness and disease.

I found the book to be absolutely beautifully written, incredibly interesting and although gruesome at times for the lay person, as myself, it was an enthralling book about the reality of human dissection and the start of this young woman's challenging choice of professions. ( )
1 vote porchsitter55 | Nov 22, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0143113666, Paperback)

A “gleaming, humane” (The New York Times Book Review) memoir of the relationship between a cadaver named Eve and a first-year medical student

Medical student Christine Montross felt nervous standing outside the anatomy lab on her first day of class. Entering a room with stainless-steel tables topped by corpses in body bags was initially unnerving. But once Montross met her cadaver, she found herself intrigued by the person the woman once was and fascinated by the strange, unsettling beauty of the human form. They called her Eve. The story of Montross and Eve is a tender and surprising examination of the mysteries of the human body, and a remarkable look at our relationship with both the living and the dead.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:57:35 -0400)

A first-year medical student describes an anatomy class during which she studied the donated body of a cadaver dubbed "Eve," an experience that profoundly influenced her subsequent studies and understanding of the human form.

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