The Wan­der­ing Jew of St. Salacious

  • Review
By – October 23, 2023

St. Sala­cious is the nick­name for St. Salonge, the Catholic mega-hos­pi­tal that is the set­ting for this humor­ous but hard-hit­ting cri­tique of present-day Amer­i­can health care. The hero of the nov­el is Dr. Mar­ty Fis­ch­er, a non-prac­tic­ing agnos­tic Jew whose Jew­ish­ness is rel­e­vant to the sto­ry only inas­much as he works at a hos­pi­tal full of Catholic sym­bols. In this satir­i­cal sketch of a high-end health care palace for wealthy patients, man­i­cured grounds and park­ing-lot trams coex­ist with the Vir­gin Mary stand­ing in a foun­tain and Jesus’s cru­ci­fix­ion dis­played on every wall. Turk­er paints an accu­rate pic­ture of the dis­com­fort many Jews feel in the face of these images, demon­strat­ing how impos­si­ble they are to ignore. Through­out the book, Mar­ty finds him­self feel­ing as though the icons are gap­ing at him.

Mar­ty is a true hero who is indif­fer­ent to both wealth and pres­tige; the work itself is his reward. The book goes into great detail about every med­ical case that Mar­ty takes on — expla­na­tions that are lucid and fas­ci­nat­ing for the lay read­er. He is furi­ous about the finan­cial pol­i­tics of aca­d­e­m­ic med­i­cine and the greed­i­ness of the sur­geons, all of which endan­ger his patients and threat­en his career. Mean­while, there are mys­ter­ies at the Catholic hos­pi­tal that affect Mar­ty direct­ly, as a result of his para­noia and the visions that his anti-anx­i­ety med­ica­tions induce. As Mar­ty saves peo­ple in and out of the oper­at­ing room, he must con­front one dif­fi­cult and puz­zling predica­ment after another.

This book feels like a fic­tion­al­ized auto­bi­og­ra­phy. The author is a pedi­atric sur­geon who aims to shed light on the trou­bles of aca­d­e­m­ic research and the stag­ger­ing inequal­i­ties of pri­vate med­i­cine. With the excep­tion of Sis­ter Cather­ine, the CEO of the hos­pi­tal, the oth­er char­ac­ters are most­ly props for Mar­ty, who is per­haps too good to be true but lik­able nonethe­less. The only short­com­ing of this book is its use of dialect. Each chap­ter begins with a quote from Marty’s Zay­deh, who often sounds like an Ital­ian Amer­i­can from Brooklyn. 

Despite its seri­ous sub­ject mat­ter, The Wan­der­ing Jew of St. Sala­cious is a light-heart­ed book and a fast read.

Beth Dwoskin is a retired librar­i­an with exper­tise in Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture and Jew­ish folk music.

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