Capsule reviews

TWELVE PATIENTS: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital. By Eric Manheimer, M.D. Hachette Book Group. 353 pages. $26.99.

Bellevue Hospital, New York City, founded in 1726, is the oldest continuously operating hospital in the country and has had a long and sometimes checkered past. Eric Manheimer, its chief medical officer from 1997-2012, has many stories to tell, and he has chosen 12 of them for this book.

As he brings to life the daily chaos in this “small city that is this public hospital,” he speaks eloquently, not only of the scientific aspects of medicine, but also of the humane and personal side, all the while trying to sidestep bureaucracy, especially in the cases of the poor and disenfranchised.

His stories are wide and diversified: describing a Guatamalan gang member and drug dealer with TB and HIV, a young girl abused in too many foster homes, a wealthy banker hooked on prescription drugs and alcohol, and of his own battle with a deadly cancer. As he becomes more involved in his patients’ personal lives, he reveals an intimacy that very few physicians manage to achieve as he worries about doctors with “the computer now safely between them and the patient so that hardly a glance is necessary before they can be off to the next.”

In “Twelve Patients,” Manheimer has written an insightful and thoughtful book, a true healer who leaves no doubt that he takes his Hippocratic Oath very seriously.

Reviewer Frances Monaco is a writer based in Charleston.

THE SANDCASTLE GIRLS. By Chris Bohjalian. Doubleday. 299 pages. $25.95.

This absorbing tale is told against the epic backdrop of World War I.

“The Sandcastle Girls” gives us a heartfelt love story that begins in Aleppo, Syria. Elizabeth Endicott and her father have arrived from Boston on a humane mission to feed and care for thousands of starving Armenian refugees who have been deported from Eastern Turkey.

While at the American Consulate in Aleppo, Elizabeth manages to rescue two of the refugees, Shoushan and an orphan girl, Hatoun. She meets, and is attracted to, an Armenian engineer, Armen, who has lost his wife and daughter in the carnage and is being protected by the consulate.

Intertwined is the 2012 parallel story of Laura Petrosian, a novelist living in Bronxville, N.Y., who is the granddaughter of Armen. She knows little of his early life story, begins a journey to learn more and discovers a tragic family secret. Throughout this memorable book, the characters reach out from the pages, inviting the reader to be part of their story.

Author Chris Bohjalian is of Armenian descent. The story of the annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians is relatively unknown; to this day, Turkey refuses, even under international pressure, to acknowledge any guilt.

In an interview, Bohjalian said, “I know in my heart, this is the most important book I’ll ever write.” And maybe it’s his best.

Frances Monaco