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Book Review: The Last Plane by Robert Hirzer

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This is a good book, a well written novel. It is the first book by the author, Robert Hirzer, a physician and GP whose practice was in the area served by the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, BC - the hospital where he interned and where he was on staff in the days when doctors not only worked in their offices but also cared for patients in hospital.

The novel, while it is a work of fiction, is a reflection following the death of his father on the lives of his family spanning four generations including his grandparents, his parents, his own generation with brief mention of his children. In one short chapter he describes a day in the life of a GP that rings true for many who practiced in days when full spectrum general practice was the norm. But, most of the novel is about the lives of his parents through their childhood in Austria into youth and young adulthood as the second world war consumed those years.

Much of the novel is about the lives of his parents, their siblings, their parents and the events they lived through. Their childhood growing up in rural Austria, in villages and on farms, managing with the limitations available in the years following the first world war and the outbreak of the second world war as it gradually spread conscripting young men into the German army. It is a perspective less often encountered, that of soldiers in the German army. But, it is not about the countries at war, it is about the lives of the individuals, their experiences, the hopes, the love, the horrors locked in their memories, not spoken and ones that can only be imagined - brought vividly to life by the author.

The novel weaves the lives of the younger generation, that of the author, between those of the older generations. His parents migration to Canada where he was born and his early years growing up in Kitchener-Waterloo, going to medical school and on to medical practice. The book includes historical facts about places and war machines and is suspenseful to the end.

Although I have known Robert Hirzer since our days in medical school and later for decades as colleagues at the Royal Columbian Hospital and also living in the same city not far from each other we have not been close friends. I feel I know his wife better, professionally that is, having many times while doing rounds reviewed imaging of patients with her to ensure a better understanding of their problems. Even our children have known each other better, having had the same piano teacher, learning together, and knowing siblings of Eva Markvoort they have been much closer to her and her family that Robert mentions in the book and at the end reminds people of her story of life with cystic fibrosis that is captured in the documentary movie "65 Red Roses" and her live journal blog.

Like most authors I am sure he hopes people will read his book but he does not foist it on people he knows. It is well written and easy to read, the words that is, though the experiences as real as they surely were for some are much harder to take in. With all of that he captures the despair, the hope, the love and the joy.

I'm not sure where he has taken writer's privilege to mix fact with fiction but I feel I know him better now and it's time to knock on the door of their house with some Guinness beer or wine and checkout the sun room we've heard about.

The book may be available in your public library and is available at online book stores and right now, until January 1, 2020 it is available for $0.99 in ebook format, see



A much more complete review by another colleague years ago

A much more complete review in the BCMJ by another colleague shortly after the book was released


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