The Physician of Sanlúcar
by Jonathan Falla
- An intense, graphic and quietly violent psychological novel set in Patagonia circa 1915.
- A new novel from multi-award-winning author Jonathan Falla.
- In the vein of Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene, this is literary fiction at its very best.
A beautifully written and absorbing story of exile and redemption set against the stark Patagonian wilderness at the start of the modern age.
Matthieu Macanan has fled his home in France, to work as a doctor in a remote region of South America where his past is unknown. There he tends to the locacl tribes and tries to avoid contact with European settlers. When Silke Kahn and her husband Theo fly into his world with plans to run an airmail service in the area, his reclusive life is irrevocably altered.
While Matthieu struggles to resist his attraction to Silke, hostilities created by the coming war escalate, drawing the local people into their orbit and forcing the doctor to decide which side he is on.
But what is he hiding from? Can he really help the local tribes to survive the disease and trouble the Europeans unleash? In offering refuge to Silke Kahn, has Matthieu finally committed a fatal move?
“It might have become a cloud-swept sexathon with syringes and flashing machetes to heighten the action. But The Physician of Sanlúcar, although charged with compelling drama and moral edge, eschews both melodrama and bathos. We begin on the cusp of the First World War. Matthieu Macanan, a young French physician in the backstreets of Punta Arenas, tending the woes of native Indians, raddled farmers, and the sex-starved sailors. He is an altruist, aloof, obsessively private.
Macanan flees to Sanlúcar to bury himself, to begin again, with his handful of volumes of poetry, his shack, and an outhouse to work in. Falla weaves a teasing chimera: Who is this doctor? What is his past? Why is he here? Is he indeed a doctor at all?
The cloistered, secretive doctor is soon prised open by the sylph-like Silke Kahn who, with her husband, plans to link Patagonia’s communities. Their plane, the fragile Dove, is a daring, almost incongruous symbol of their hopes. Matthieu’s principles are overwhelmed. He treats Silke’s migraines by giving her heroin. Hooked on the object of his love, he can’t see that she in turn is becoming addicted to the drug.
Their affair is touchingly brought to life. Falla allows the lovers sufficient space in which to grow before the world wakes up to a cargo ship carrying gold which has run aground off Sanlúcar. Its cargo attracts Patagonia’s pioneer thugs.
Matthieu realises that Silke must hear the truth about his past; his revelations are poignant, tragic, all too believable, and make his inevitable fate and that of Silke the more touching.
Falla’s construction and execution of the novel are beautifully judged… it’s carried out with poetic subtlety, hard to spot because the writing itself is so joyously accomplished, light, almost airborne. And witty too, a wry, anachronistic treat for fans of the movie, Casablanca.” Tom Adair, The Scotsman
About the author
The Physician of Sanlúcar is Jonathan Falla‘s fourth novel, after Blue Poppies, Poor Mercy and Glenfarron. Jamaican-born Falla lives in Scotland where he is director of studies for the St Andrews Creative Writing Summer School. He has won a Creative Scotland Award, a PEN story prize, and other awards for his fiction, drama and film writing. See www.jonathanfalla.co.uk.
Praise for other works
“Poor Mercy is an outstanding novel.” Sunday Times
“An original, unflinching work… the strength of the writing and the subject carry all before them.” New York Times
“Coolly and confidently written, this is fiction at its most bracing.” Baltimore Sun
“Assured, without a trace of self-indulgence… it knows where it is going, and that is nowhere near home.” The Scotsman