Book Review: ‘The King’s Anatomist: The Journey of Andreas Vesalius’ by Ron Blumenfeld

A very good first novel by Ron Blumenfeld, as he tackles a book on the rather unknown Andreas Vesalius, the father of modern anatomy, and is set in 1565. This book is loaded with a lot of interesting facts about Vesalius, a person I had never had heard of until this book.

Good historical fiction that begins by setting out the basics of the narrator Jan Van den Bossche, who is presented as both a childhood friend and “astral twin” of Andreas (they were born on the same day of the same year and only a few blocks apart. Jan is a fictional character who carries this tale of Vesalius from their first friendship at school, and for a first-time author, I was very impressed with how Blumenfeld then carried this tale throughout the book, as he skips from college years to Jan receiving notice that Velanius died returning from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was buried on the Greek island of Zante. This prompts Van den Bossche to embark on his own pilgrimage to Zante to say goodbye to his old friend. Along the way, Van den Bossche stops at numerous towns along the way, and at each town he meets people who had been a part of Vesalius’s life and we learn more details through these sources, be they a Cardinal who was an old friend, a printer, professor, etc. We learn about Vesalius’s love of anatomy from an early age, and his pursuit of perfection so that he had at the time of his death the most advanced anatomy book in the world.

While preferring Academia, he is “reduced” to being the court physician of Charles V and Phillip II of Spain, a position that his forefathers had held but one that he was not suited for. But due to troubles at Court, Andreas went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem but died on Zante on his return trip. This is what prompts Jan to make his trip because he wants to pay a final tribute to his friend. But when he arrives at Zante things are not as all as he expected and this segment of the book is really strong and well done. We meet so many characters, all of whom are well developed, and we meet Anne, the love of Jan’s life who eventually married Andreas, and now as Andreas’ widow, Jan is hopeful that upon his return to Brussels she will marry him.

This is a fast read, and well-plotted book, a book that you cannot put down, and is filled with revelations from the first chapter to the last page of the book. I, for one, am looking forward to the author’s next book!

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