The news of the death of Noah Gordon, author of ‘The Physician’, hit Spain on Monday, but went unnoticed in the United States. The novelist said goodbye to the world as he already sensed in the last years of a long life, which lasted almost a century: as a man of enormous success, with his name engraved for posterity especially thanks to a book of great impact, but as often happens to so many writers and artists, ignored in his own land.
In fact, when the newspaper of reference in the USA, ‘The New York Times’, dedicated a laudatory profile to him in 1986, after the brilliant worldwide success of ‘The Physician’, it was to highlight that his figure reflected “ a great mystery of the world of books because although Mr. Gordon is an American who writes his novels in America, mainly on American subjects, the great majority of his tributes and celebrations and his millions of readers are foreigners.
Gordon died this Monday, November 22, at his home at the age of 95, as announced by his family on their official website, without announcing a cause. His profile on the social network Twitter showed the writer walking down the street with a walker, with a laconic message: “Noah Gordon, 1926-2021.” As the family said on their website, “Noah recently celebrated his 95th birthday with great joy, grateful for the long and fruitful life he has lived. He leaves a tremendous void and his memory will be a blessing to his beloved family who appreciated him.
His most famous work was ‘The Physician’, published in 1986 and which has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, most of them in Spain. It tells the life of Robert Cole, an 11th-century English surgeon who has the gift of intuiting if someone is about to die just by touching him, and who travels to Persia to study at the most important medical school of that era, which runs the mythical Avicenna. Two other volumes would follow in what would be a trilogy starring a family saga of medical professionals over time: ‘Shaman’ and ‘Doctor Cole’.
— Noah Gordon (@NoahGordonBooks) November 22, 2021
Interviewed by ABC in 2018
The medical theme of the bulk of his books had personal roots. Born in Massachusetts on November 11 before the Great Depression, his family wanted him to pursue medicine. He preferred writing and trained in journalism. He started as a science reporter in Boston, where there are dozens of hospitals, research centers, and universities. When he started to really dedicate himself to writing novels, he retired to a small town where there were no doctors, so at the same time he was writing, he was volunteering as a doctor. He lived like this for nine long years, as he told ABC in an interview published in 2018. In that same interview, he confessed that at 92 he could no longer write, and that he had two incomplete novels and that he believed he would never finish them. So they remain, unfinished.
He also confessed then his passion for Spain, one of the countries where he was most successful and to which he dedicated his novel ‘La bodega’, from 2007. When he published the work, he defined it as his love letter to an entire country. «I did not discover the glories of good wine until, as a middle-aged man, I began to travel to Spain, where I soon developed a deep affection for the people, their culture, and their wines. Over time I came to realize that I wanted to write about a man who lived in Spain and who dared to dream of the possibility of making good wine, “he said then. It is already his last book published in life.
Unsuccessful in the United States
If in his native America they did not appreciate him, Spain did. In 2018 ‘El Médico’, after being a film, was adapted to the theater as a completely Spanish-made musical, with a libretto and lyrics by Félix Amador, and composition and musical direction by Iván Macías. After its premiere in the pages of this newspaper, Julio Bravo said that it was “a show of impeccable workmanship, in which all formal and artistic aspects are taken care of.” Gordon himself liked the adaptation, which he said created “a different and beautiful atmosphere in which the story flourishes.”
Gordon’s first novel, from 1965, was a relative success in the US It was titled ‘The Rabbi’, and drew from his experience as a Jew of immigrant parents. The reviews ranged from good to very good, and it actually spent 26 weeks on the ‘Times’ bestseller list. He published two other books with modest success – ‘The Death Committee’ and ‘The Jerusalem Diamond’ – and by the time ‘The Physician ‘ came out it did not exceed 10,000 copies in the US.
But there were publishers in Germany and Spain who believed in that book, which was popularized by word of mouth. Silvia Querini, then head of Ediciones B, took over the rights to the Spanish translation, and thanks to the dedication and support of the booksellers, the novel became an editorial phenomenon of the historical genre, at the level of ‘Los Pillars of the Earth ‘by Ken Follett or’ The Name of the Rose ‘by Umberto Eco.