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My father, his siblings, Aubrey Eban and Zionism


Taking my name from my grandfather
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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On my father’s side... alas, I never knew any of my grandparents. I couldn’t have known my mother’s father, he would have... he was 96... he would have been 96 at my birth. I didn’t know her mother either. Nor did I know either of my father’s parents. His father was my namesake. In Yiddish his name was Elivelva, in Hebrew, Eliahu Zeev, and in English, Oliver Wolf. He was the original Oliver Wolf Sacks.

I have cousins and nephews and others in which Eliahu – Elijah – is turned into Elliott. My proper name, I suppose, should be Elijah Wolf Sacks, but I’m happy with Oliver, although I’m sad that the Wolf has fallen out because I... I like the animal sound and smell and stink of Wolf. And actually when I first came to America I thought I should have a change of identity, and for my first year I dropped ‘Oliver’ and only used ‘Wolf’. And, now, very occasionally, I get a letter or a postcard to Wolf Sacks and think: who’s that? And I realise this is someone who knew me then, 50 years ago.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: Yiddish, Hebrew, Eliahu Zeev, Oliver Wolf Sacks

Duration: 1 minute, 29 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012