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The Latest: Crusading for 'Sight'; the same old Sense

May 16, 2013
  • "Hope in Sight," by Aisha Simjee, MD.
"Hope in Sight," by Aisha Simjee, MD. (Don Leach, Daily…)

Hope in Sight

Aisha Simjee, MD

White Spruce Press; 240 pages

Aisha Simjee is a tough cookie. On her first mission trip as an ophthalmologist, the Newport Beach resident flew to Guyana and set up her equipment in an unused school building. Shortly after, a volunteer came running from the bathroom and screamed that there was a snake inside. Instead of being frightened, Simjee was intrigued — and walked into the bathroom to see what kind of snake it was. Recounting that story in her memoir "Hope in Sight," the doctor notes that she had grown accustomed to the species in her native Burma, "a land full of snakes." The intruder soon moves on, and Simjee's team reclaims the facilities.

That brief anecdote points to Simjee's mindset as both a doctor and a writer: She comes off as efficient and unsentimental, traits no doubt required for the work she does around the globe. "Hope in Sight" is far from a self-pat on the back; a few pages on, the author describes herself as a "no-nonsense scientist and surgeon" and adds that profits from the book will go to charity or future missions. Still, the qualities that make Simjee admirable as a humanitarian don't always make for an exhilarating read. "Hope in Sight" tells an inspiring story, but much of it feels terse and detached — more of a detailed account than an emotionally taut journey.

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The opening chapters are among the strongest, as Simjee recounts her childhood in Burma and her unorthodox introduction to eye care (at 7, she contracted trachoma and had it cured by squirting breast milk into her eye). In a household where daughters were raised to be homemakers, Simjee refused an arranged marriage and vowed to become a doctor; as a teenager, she marveled at the stories of emancipated Western women she read at the library. After settling in America and earning her medical license, she began taking her practice overseas — to more than two dozen countries, many deep in the Third World.

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