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Book Review   |    
Sharon Farmer
Psychiatric Services 2009; doi:
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by Omar Metwally; Bloomington, Indiana, iUniverse, Inc., 2008, 156 pages, $12.95

Dr. Farmer is medical director, Chemical Abuse and Dependency Services Division, King County Mental Health, Everett, Washington.

The novel Fredrik's Winter undoubtedly made it into this year's book reviews because it was written by a medical student, Omar Metwally of the University of Michigan Medical School, and has a psychiatrist and a mentally ill medical student as two of the main characters. However, reader, beware. This book has nothing to do with psychiatry and mental illness, at least not as I understand them. Perhaps this is because the novel assumes that reincarnation is a reality. What would happen to the field of medicine if sick and dying patients were assured of coming back to life?

To explore this issue, the author writes of five suicides. To ensure the reader doesn't view reincarnation in the context of suicide alone, he adds deaths by accident, homicide, and hypothermia. Given that these all occur in fewer than 150 pages, this is a terribly bleak book. Does one person really need to live through a plane crash, a murder, and two suicides? Furthermore, what is the point of all this cycling between living and dying? No conclusions are drawn—just another round of deaths.

All psychiatrists who read this book will be upset by the portrayal of physicians as self-absorbed and uncaring. The psychiatrist is not only falling down on the job (all of the victims of suicide were his patients) but recruits prey for the local unethical drug company. Even the medical student and his girlfriend, who both have mental illnesses, come across as less than fully human, as illustrated by the girlfriend's painting of two people sitting back-to-back in a small boat, adrift in the North Sea.

I generally don't watch movies about psychiatrists or persons with mental illness, nor am I in the habit of criticizing medical students. However, this author appears to have taken things about which I care deeply and set them in a cold, cruel world, to explore some concern that is totally lost on me. I worry that an uninformed reader could view this as yet another reason to mistrust our field of medicine. A philosopher, but not a psychiatrist, might find intellectual pleasure in this book.

The reviewer reports no competing interests.

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