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The types of books we had in the house


My excommunicated uncle
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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My father was ambivalent, and this showed itself in regard to a younger brother of his, although this was not a story which I could put together until – in fact, until after my father’s death. My father, who was very powerfully built and very muscular as a young man, and a wonderful swimmer – well, he continued as a wonderful swimmer, really, until his dying day – but he became immensely obese later and would go every so often to a fat farm in Wales. And this never seemed to do much good; he would often come back rather heavier than... apparently fatter than when he went, and often with a deep suntan which seemed atypical for Wales.  But... I only got the story together after his death when I found that all of these supposed Welsh visits had in fact been visits to Portugal to see his younger brother.

This younger brother was never mentioned when I grew up. When he was 19 he had gone to Portugal, fallen in love with and married a shiksa, a gentile, and he was excommunicated by the rest of the family – his name was never mentioned.  But it then turned out that not merely my father, but my father’s two sisters all made secret visits to Lisbon to see their beloved brother who was categorically excommunicated, but still personally seen. I very much regret that I never met my uncle, nor... nor his daughter.

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: Portugal, Wales

Duration: 2 minutes, 13 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012