Hospital of the Transfiguration is Stanislaw Lem's first novel, a semi-autobiographical work about his time spent working in a psychiatric hospital in German-occupied Poland. Stefan Trzyniecki is a young Polish doctor who decides to complete his residency at a rural insane asylum away from the furor of the cities during the 1939 Occupation of Poland. Stefan is a confused and troubled young man seeking his own form of asylum from the chaos World War II brought to his country. The book lacks a straight-forward plot but focuses instead on individual experiences, philosophical musings, and relationships Trzyniecki experiences during the summer and winter of 1939. The asylum itself is something of a distillation of the horror of the outside world. Inside, Stefan witnesses a horrific brain surgery, a coprophagic schizophrenic's deplorable physical state, and brutal treatment of patients by physicians who seem no less mad than the people they treat. He befriends a self-admitted poet Sekulowski who discusses many philosophical matters with the young physician. Sekulowski is highly intelligent and charismatic but his sincerity and truthfulness become doubtful as the story progresses, and Stefan can no longer rely on him for emotional and intellectual support. During his residency he leaves briefly to visit his dying father who encourages the young man that for better or worse, life happens as it will and that there is no use troubling oneself about life for it is outside of one's control. In the final chapter, the German army takes over the asylum, turning it into an SS hospital. The staff and patients are expelled to fend for themselves in the outside world.
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Best part of story, including ending:
I find Stanislaw Lem to be a very pleasant guide through difficult and troubling subject matter. He is always honest and generous as a writer. He clearly cares about people, and despite the bleak tone of the book, I found it to be compassionate.
Best scene in story:
The scene where he describes the schizophrenic is very memorable to me. It is so nuanced I imagine Lem is describing something he witnessed with his own eyes as a young man.
Opinion about the main character:
Stefan can be really mopey. It comes with the territory, but it can be tiresome.