Tod Friendly awakens from death, rejuvenates, and becomes a surgeon. In New York he becomes John Young. He travels to Lisbon and a privileged existence as Hamilton de Souza. He leaves Lisbon for Salerno, then Rome. As Odilo Unverdorben he travels north to Auschwitz Central where he resumes his surgical career and conducts research. Through this time he has a series of affairs until he joins his wife. Their daughter dies, they marry, then court. Odilo works as a doctor, then attends medical school. He joins a youth organization and lives with Father and Mother. Finally, he enters Mother.


A series of literal and figurative awakenings, renamings, and reinventings of oneself, Time's Arrow is an extended international Bildungsroman in reverse. A technically brilliant accomplishment of Nabokov's challenge, "Nobody can imagine in physical terms the act of reversing the order of time. Time is not reversible," its extension of the story of the development of one's self (traditionally told up to young adulthood) to the full course of a lifetime, and its emphasis on that development as a response to changing events in one's life and in the broader socio-historical context, dramatizes identity as created, as created through narrative, as constantly re-created, and as ipse (similarity to one's self over time) not idem (identicalness with oneself outside time).

In Time's Arrow time, voice, and perspective are constructed individually and in combination such that the novel can be read analogously to a thoroughly self-conscious, unruly reflection of the disorderly and opaque narrative structures of medicine. Moreover, the difficulty of reading "backwards," as opposed to the facility of watching a film in reverse, engraves the experience in the reader's mind, such that the very literariness of Time's Arrow becomes its greatest value to literature and medicine.



Place Published

New York