The Law of White Spaces

The five tales (plus preface) that make up THE LAW OF WHITE SPACES concern doctors and patients. American readers will have to take heed, and heart, for Pressburger’s stories do not relate to the current debate on health care reform nor do they have much in common with novels such as Diane Johnson’s HEALTH AND HAPPINESS or films such as THE DOCTOR. The reason is simple; THE LAW OF WHITE SPACES is not so much relevant as it is revelatory. In remarkably restrained yet surprisingly charged and entirely unpretentious prose very ably translated by Piers Spencer, Pressburger writes less of medicine per se than of mystery. As Dr. Abraham Fleischmann realizes as he slides into a state of forgetfulness that seems both a medical malady and the apt end of a life spent so apart, so alone, “Everything is written in the white spaces between one letter and the next. The rest doesn’t count.”

There are similar revelations in store for the characters in the other tales. Dr. Sptizer writes to his brother, also a doctor, about “the strangeness of existence” that he opposes to his brother’s belief in a purely mechanistic existence. But two failures, as much personal as professional, fill him with remorse and misgivings, driving him away from medicine. “Perhaps the mechanism is capable of producing only errors,” he pessimistically concludes. In “Vera,” a young physician assigned to a relief group finds himself perversely attracted to a mother and her mute, golem-like daughter. In “Bahdy’s Disease” three brothers develop identical symptoms but of entirely different diseases over a twenty-year period, a coincidence which their doctor finds both mysterious and unnerving, evidence, the doctor speculates, of their having “sacrificed themselves for a love which demanded such a sacrifice.” The wife in “Choices” sacrifices herself in a quite different way, choosing neither death nor emigration but, ennobled by her dead husband’s example, a quiet dedication. For creating a work so uncompromising and compassionate, Giorgio Pressburger ought to be not so much congratulated as thanked.