Spare Parts by Paul Craddock: A book about trying to escape death

Orla Tinsley finds the marvellous breadth of this book about organ transplants suffocated by its tone

Heart transplant surgery. Photograph: Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty

Heart transplant surgery. Photograph: Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty

“Life is pleasant, death is peaceful, it’s the transition that’s troublesome,” wrote Isaac Asimov. He could have been talking about the troublesome tension illuminated in Spare Parts by medical historian Paul Craddock. 

We are presented in the opening scenes with “scorched flesh” that “fills the operating theatre with the aroma of a Sunday barbecue”. The writer, observing a kidney transplant taking place, describes the donated organ as “discarded offal” and Mr Bhatti, who is receiving that kidney from his brother, has “kind eyes”, before the man disappears under the drapes to become, “the abdomen”. It is with this curious and clinical precision that we are invited into what Craddock calls “a cultural history of transplants”. 

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