Last Updated on February 7, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1158
As part 1 (titled “In Perfect Health I Begin”) opens, Paul remembers his path to being a doctor. Initially, he has no interest in going into the medical profession, even though he comes from a family of doctors. He is more interested, as a child, in becoming a writer—a dream which has never left him.
Paul recalls his father as a fine cardiologist beloved by his patients; as a parent, though, Paul felt his father to be distant and only sporadically available to his children. Their relationship was characterized by “short, concentrated (but sincere) bursts of high intensity.”
When Paul is ten, his family moves from Bronxville, New York, to Kingman, Arizona. Young Paul is fascinated by the desert terrain and wild animals that are a part of daily life in Kingman. He is told various so-called “country facts” about the landscape by the locals, though these “country facts” are largely exaggerations concerning the supposed lethality of the wildlife, designed to make fools of newcomers and tourists. Once he finally feels at home in Kingman, Paul himself starts sharing “country facts” with outsiders.
Paul wonders how his father convinced his mother, who has a severe phobia of snakes, to move to Kingman. The two eloped from India to New York City, much to the displeasure of his father’s Christian family and his mother’s Hindu relations (Paul mentions that his maternal grandmother refuses to call him by his Western first name, preferring to use his Indian middle name, Sudhir). Regardless, Paul’s mother comes to occupy herself with other matters once the family settles into their new home.
Paul’s mother quickly learns that the Kingman school system is ranked among the worst in the country. Terrified her children will not receive an adequate education, she combs through college reading lists and assigns books to her children. Paul enjoys the many works of literature he encounters through this exercise, particularly George Orwell’s 1984, which his mother has him read when he is ten. “I was scandalized by the sex,” Paul notes, “but it also instilled in me a deep love of, and care for, language.”
Paul’s mother also gets herself involved with the school board, demanding that AP classes be added to the curriculum, and drives all of her children to Las Vegas to take standardized tests such as the PSAT, SAT, and ACT. Her efforts bring about positive changes in the school system, allowing students to feel that their futures can lie beyond the narrow confines of the town.
Paul is accepted into Stanford, but the academic year begins a month later than most other colleges. While his friends are attending classes at their universities of choice, Paul spends time alone in the desert or with his girlfriend at the time, Abigail, who works at the only coffee shop in Kingman. One day, Abigail recommends that Paul read something other than his preferred “high-culture crap” and lends him a book entitled Satan: His Psychotherapy and Cure by the Unfortunate Dr. Kassler, J.S.P.S. Paul is not impressed with the book, but it sparks an interest in neuroscience. He dual-majors in English and biology, hoping a synthesis of the two subjects will reveal to him what makes life meaningful—particularly as one of Paul’s concerns is that he is not living his life to the fullest.
After school starts, Paul fears he is becoming too inwardly focused through his extensive study. This problem comes to the forefront during Paul’s sophomore summer, when he considers two jobs: interning for a prestigious primate research center or working as a prep chef at Sierra Camp. When he picks the latter, Paul baffles his biology adviser (“When you grow up, are you going to be a scientist or a . . . chef ?”) but feels that this is the best option for forging new...
(The entire section contains 1158 words.)
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