The final lines of Lermontov’s ‘The Sail’ – ‘Restless, he begs for storms, / As though in storms there is rest’ – sum up the spirit of this book. Raw courage, skill and knowledge are on show in these dispatches of a battle surgeon from harrowing places. But there is also a saddening sense of personal dislocation, as if the author is not a man who is at ease with himself.
Nor is all of the book an easy read. Kaplan was, for a time, the only surgeon for 160,000 civilians in war-torn Angola. Some of his descriptions – in particular of a pregnant woman with one eye popping out from its socket after she had been shot at in a