March 1979, a young street hustler in San Francisco stumbles into an emergency room with lungs so congested he can barely breathe. Seen by a perplexed young medical resident, the patient becomes the first of many thousands to die from a yet-to- be named plague. Sensing Light is raw, compelling novel that reveals the personal and professional lives of men and women on the front lines of the emerging AIDS epidemic.
This breakout book by Mark Jacobson, a leading Bay Area HIV/AIDS physician, follows three people from vastly different backgrounds who are thrown together by a shared urgency to discover what is killing so many men in the prime of their lives. Kevin is a gay medical resident from working class Boston who has just moved to San Francisco in search of acceptance of his sexual identity. Herb, a middle-aged supervising physician at one of the nation’s toughest hospitals, is struggling with his own emotional rigidity. And Gwen, a divorced mother raising a teenage daughter, is seeking a sense of self and security while endeavoring to complete her medical training.
First off, I just wanted to thank Poetic Book Tours for letting me host a book blog tour of this book. It is such an honor. And thanks to the author too, for letting me read and review his book.
Let’s start the review.
This book is about the story of the three doctors who had the same goal during the outbreak of AIDS in 1979, which is to find out what AIDS is; what’s causing it; and what could be the possible cure for it.
I’ll start talking about Kevin Bartholomew because he was the first person to be introduced in the book. Kevin was still a researcher at the time. At first, I ignore the part where Kevin was gay and was searching acceptance about his sexuality. I wasn’t prepared to let that part sink in. Though as the story went on, I turn to love Kevin’s character in the book. He has such the biggest character development in all three of them, for my opinion that is. Just imagine from being just a researcher at first and then becoming a fully-fledged doctor with his own clinic and his own team studying about GRID, the first name of AIDS. His personal story is also easy to follow. How he ended up in San Francisco and becoming a doctor; he’s family issues; and even his love life. It was so easy to recall and follow his story and because of it, I loved his character even more. He’s understanding, thoughtful, and caring. He’s got all the personality of a soft hearted man in my description but he is not weak at all. In his journey on studying AIDS, he encountered a lot of obstacles. Like not having enough support for his study from the higher people in their hospital, the part where he almost gave up but he didn’t, and many more. Kevin is strong. I like the part where Kevin talked to the people who were demanding a cure for the disease and showed them who the boss is. That was where Kevin showed his strong personality. I like when heroes in the book don’t let other people boss them around or let other people oppress them. It gives me some sort of pride towards the character when he/she won’t let other people bully him/her. In short, I don’t like heroes that are being bullied. Like seriously, they are heroes and they became the main character of a book for a reason and that reason is to not be bullied. And I love Kevin for that.
Next is Gwen Howard. Her first appearance was as a clinic doctor referring a patient to the hospital where Kevin is working. Although she’s the last one to be introduced to the three main characters, I will talk about her in second because I just like it. Haha! Well, back to Gwen. Gwen is a fine character. She has some, or maybe a lot, of issues about herself that she’s dealing with throughout the book. She’s a single mother of a teenage kid. In her point of view, she seems to have no idea on how to deal with her daughter when she reached the teen age. And when she found a lover, her issues or problems got doubled. Sure Gwen is really busy dealing with patients in the hospital and studying about AIDS at the same time but that doesn’t mean that she’s always the one who needs to be understood by her boyfriend, Rick. It seems to me that some tiny part of here doesn’t really like having a boyfriend. Like, really. Being a couple needs two people and in this book, it’s like it was just Rick who’s doing all the work to make their relationship stay. Though apart from that part, Gwen is a pretty understanding character. Aside from her issues about herself, I like her character. She’s a good help to Kevin in dealing not just with AIDS but also as his friend. She’s there for him in every step of the way and it only shows how compassionate and thoughtful she is as a friend.
Lastly is Herb Wu. Herb’s first impression to me is a very intelligent doctor. Smart and observant. Though out of all three of them, his life was somehow hard to follow. He’s an Asian with unsolved problems with his parents. It actually took him thirty years to let the death of his father go and just enjoy life. He also has a lot of philosophies in life, for me that is. And the part where they talk about him having some sort of magic towards knowing when a person believed in God, yeah, that was cute. Haha! Just like Gwen, Herb was having a bad time connecting with his kids. Like really? Why is it so hard for them to deal with their children than to deal with patients in the hospital? I mean, their children are their flesh and blood but their patients aren’t but they seem to connect easily to patients. Does it come being a doctor? Sure, but they are also parents! They’ve been with their children long enough to know how their minds work even though it somehow change throughout their growth. Still! You get my point? My parents didn’t have that hard time dealing with us right now that we, me and my brother, are on our teen age years. They seem to do it just fine. But why are they struggling? Though the part where Herb found out that his son, Martin, was gay, his reaction was actually understandable. Though I laughed on this part. Lol!
The story got me hooked by the topic, AIDS. Dude, I love reading things that are about AIDS. I even read that one portfolio my father brought back from a seminar about AIDS. I have some knowledge about it to relate to the story of the book. I wasn’t actually having a hard time following the symptoms and effects and how it is transmitted. Though I was seriously lost on all of those medical terms in the book. Seriously lost. I even goggled some of it! Hehe.
The book is the kind of book where you can easily get distracted by the outside world while reading it. And it’s also the kind of book that you could easily get back into after being distracted. I admit that there are some parts where I feel sleepy and not just into it. Frankly, this book doesn’t have the kind of action I’m used to reading so I was really adjusting and adjusting and adjusting. It took me a couple more days than usual to finish this book. That is because I received this book few days before my midterm’s week. Though after the exams, I immediately jumped into it but then the week after midterm is training week in preparation for the annual sports fest we celebrate in our university which is happening right this week (I actually have a game tomorrow. Wish me luck, peeps!). So it really took a couple more days than usual to finish this book.
I’m glad that I was given the chance to read and review this book. This is seriously an amazing read. It’s a historical fiction and I’ve never read any historical fiction in my life but I enjoyed this one because it’s helpful and an informative one. You could actually learn a lot of lessons here not just about the disease AIDS but also in life.
If you are the kind of reader who loves historical stuff and into medicine, this one is perfect for you! You could actually picture the AIDS outbreak while reading this book even though you weren’t there!
I rate this 4.1/5 according to its genre and according to how the book took me in a medical adventure!
I have given the chance to interview the author, Mr. Mark A Jacobson!! And still thanks to Poetic Book Tours for the assist! I’m so excited to share this to you, peeps!
- A little pitch of Sensing Light.
Sensing Light is the first work of fiction to examine the unfolding of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s from the perspective of doctors on the front-line, who were trying to treat young adults with a fatal disease that was poorly understood and for which there was no cure. At the beginning of the story, the three main characters, all doctors, are a gay man still in medical training, a single mother working in a free clinic, and a middle-aged Asian-American lung specialist. These three people initially don’t have much in common outside of medicine but become close friends as they fight the epidemic.
- What were you doing when you thought about writing a book which is now the Sensing Light? (Were you eating? Taking a run?)
I was recovering from a bicycle accident in which I temporarily lost consciousness. That experience led me to re-assess my life goals and consider what else I wanted to do after a 30 year career as an HIV specialist and researcher with the time I have left. I’d wanted to write a novel since I was a boy and realized there was nothing stopping me now….
- Inspirations in writing the book.
The courage and dignity of my patients who died from AIDS and the love and support I saw their family and friends give to them.
- During the AIDS outbreak, was it really that bad or worse? (In accordance to the book)
It really was that bad. Though the characters of Sensing Light are purely imaginary, the events are true to what I, my colleagues, and our patients experienced.
- Your thoughts about AIDS today and AIDS before.
Until 1996, AIDS was an inevitably fatal disease. Now, because of the effective antiviral drugs we have that stop HIV from growing in the body, even people who present with very advanced AIDS can become healthy and live long, active lives.
- You have mentioned in the book two Filipino characters. As I am a Filipino who never read a book with a cameo of the people from my country, I’m just curious as to why you put them there? Have you been to Philippines before or met any Filipino people?
Though I have never been to the Philippines, I have had many Filipino colleagues at San Francisco General Hospital during the 30+ years I’ve worked there—nurses, doctors, medical and research assistants. I wanted to create of a novel of realistic historical fiction, so I included characters that reflected the demographics of where I work.
- Ice cream flavor?
- Coffee or tea?
- Indoor or Outdoor?
- Favorite sport.
Love watching the Golden State Warriors
- Past time hobbies.
Playing guitar and singing!
About the Author...
Mark Jacobson, a professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco and attending physician at San Francisco General Hospital, began his internship in 1981, just days after the CDC first reported a mysterious, fatal disease affecting gay men.