Book Review

Black Bag Moon, Doctors’ Tales from Dusk to Dawn
Written by Susan Woldenberg Butler
Radcliffe: UK, 2012

Reviewed by Zohar Lederman (

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It seems that physicians’ spouses are a special bunch. Some leave their jobs, friends, and countries to accompany their loved ones across the Atlantic Ocean and are content with it. Others write books; Mrs. Butler is of the latter.

Black Bag Moon is a compilation of 29 short stories written by fictional general practitioners (GP’s) who uproot themselves to various locations around the world. The “authors” are mostly young, fresh out of residency, who for some reason took a locum position in places that might be best described as “an island off an island off an island.” They are not necessarily good doctors, nor are they good human beings; they are just plain human beings, who tell you their stories less through writing than through conversation. This is the feeling one gets when a certain Tommy MacDonald points out, in the middle of his recollection of a case, that Gidgee wood has a characteristic aroma, and that it is slow-growing, like Tasmanian she-oak, which burns differently from eucalyptus. The greatest attraction of the book is, without a doubt, the description of exotic places where one (or at least I) has never been but has always wanted to go: the west coast of Scotland, distant villages in England, New Zealand, the Indian Ocean. As the late Dr. Spiro wrote about the book preceding this one, the medical reader will go over the stories with envy, and, I might add, would begin searching the web for similar locum positions.

From a different angle, Black Bag Moon perhaps should be considered a tribute not to GP’s but rather to their partners, who often must sacrifice their own wishes and resources for the sake of their spouses. This notion does not evade the author, who astutely writes, through Malcom Phillips: “If a GP is extremely lucky, he ends up with a first-rate spouse… She can feed the flames or extinguish them” (p. 90).

Black Bag Moon is an original book, and as such it carries a risk; it starts off haphazardly (at least seemingly), with stories that are too short and a language that is almost too artistic to be accessible. However, the reader will soon acclimate to the language (and learn to appreciate it) and will get to know the characters better (Amarenth is married to Wayne, who went to medical school with Tommy MacDonald). Better yet, occasionally in the book, the fog of convoluted language clears up a tad, and profound, albeit simple, truths come to light: “What awaited me in a faraway land? It turned out to be the same old thing. People went about the business of living and dying, keeping warm and fed and loved” (Petra Neumann, p.56).

All in all, Black Bag Moon is a fun read with some profound pearls of wisdom, and in the hearts of medical professionals is likely to re-kindle a long forgotten desire to practice medicine the way we all know it should be. If you have ever watched ‘Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman’ and wished to be in her shoes- this is the book for you.

On a personal note, I hope to be as good a physician as Dexter Veriform seems to be, and - as he says at the very end of the book - I hope to be able to give as much as I am expecting to receive.


About the Author

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    Zohar Lederman is a medical doctor and a B.A Humanities student at the Open University of Israel. Next year, Zohar will begin his PhD program in Bioethics at the National  University of Singapore. His academic interests include: Philosophy of Science and Medicine, One Health and Environmental Ethics, Deliberative Ethics, Animal Ethics, Family Presence During Resuscitation and End-of-life Issues. When Zohar is not reading a medical- or just a normal- book , you could find him exercising at the gym, running, swimming, hiking with his wife or eating, not necessarily in that order.






  • Published: January 27, 2013