The Tennis Partner: Book summary and reviews of The Tennis Partner by Abraham Verghese

The Tennis Partner

A Doctor's Story of Friendship and Loss

By Abraham Verghese

The Tennis Partner
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  • Published in USA  Jul 1999,
    352 pages.

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Book Summary

In My Own Country, named one of the five best books of 1994 by Time magazine, Abraham Verghese ventured into the valley of the Smokey Mountains, where he bore witness to the arrival of AIDS in a town that had never expected the disease or its terrible consequences. The New York Times Book Review called the book "an account of the plague years in America, beautifully written, fascinating and tragic, by a doctor who was shaped and changed by his patients."

As an African-born Indian, Dr. Verghese revealed something essential about our American soul, reminding us, said Washington Post Book World "of what is honorable and charitable in the way humans behave toward each other." My Own Country presents an unflinching portrait of men and women facing the prospect of premature death, yet sometimes learning for the first time in that bleak circumstance how it is to live.

In 1991, Verghese moved west, bringing his wife and two young sons to the boarder town of El Paso, Texas. There he crossed paths with David Smith, a medical student who came to America from Australia on a tennis scholarship and played briefly on the pro tour before deciding to become a doctor. Recognizing some spark of commonality--perhaps just that of two strangers on the very edge of America--Verghese cajoled him into playing tennis again.

On the wards, Verghese is teacher and mentor as he guides David through difficult and sometime colorful clinic problems seen in a country hospital. He teaches him how to read the signs from the human body, to use his hands to percuss, and to use his mind to listen. On the tennis court, their roles are reversed: The clinician becomes the student--almost. David helps Verghese hone his strokes and sharpen his game. But Verghese, a compulsive collector since childhood of tennis lore and trivia, a compiler of notebooks on tennis heroes, ephemeral styles, and trendy strategies, rekindles David's love of the game, a love burnt out by the brutal competitiveness of the professional circuit. Perhaps this is how friendship between men are born: art work and at play.

When the two men test their newfound bond, their friendship becomes something quite remarkable. Verghese confesses that his marriage is failing--and David admits that he is a recovering intravenous cocaine addict, struggling mightily to hold on to his girlfriend, his career, his sobriety. Against the stubborn, unyielding backdrop of the desert, their relationship grows increasingly rich and complex, more intimate than two men usually allow. Whether they are cycling on Old Mesilla, seeing a critically ill patient, or commiserating about a failed romance, each anticipates the other's needs, is there to buttress a fall, or to celebrate the small victories: David's graduation, Verghese's son's birthdays.

Just when it seems that nothing can go wrong, that friendship will be able to conquer all, the dark beast from David's past emerges once again. As Verghese scrambles to rescue him, David proves that he is friend to everyone but himself. When David spirals out of control, almost everything Verghese has come to trust and believe in is threatened. It is a defining moment, the kind each of us must eventually face--it is from such adversity that our lives are carved.

The Tennis Partner is a remarkable journey to the ends and the edges of friendship, to its heights of intimacy and clarity, and also to its hellish depths of deception and betrayal. It is, above all, an unforgettable, illuminating story of how men live, and how they survive.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"If, as he writes, "to tell a life story [is] to engage in a form of seduction," then Verghese is a master of romance." - Publishers Weekly.

"Although it runs down a little in the last 50 pages or so, this is a compulsively readable and painful book, a work of compassion and intelligence." - Kirkus Reviews.

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Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Ellie
The tennis partner
As I am not a tennis player, reading this book that I thoroughly enjoyed, wished I was more athletic. I so enjoyed the characters. The agony of the addiction and divorce. The frustration of loving a friend you cannot help; The wasted talent you cannot preserve; the dilemma of not being physically present continually in your children's lives. I enjoyed it more than "Cutting for Stone".

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Author Information

Abraham Verghese Author Biography

Photo: Joanne Chan

Born in 1955 as the second of three sons of Indian parents recruited by Emperor Haile Selassie to teach in Ethiopia, Abraham Verghese grew up near Addis Ababa and began his medical training there. When the emperor was deposed, Verghese briefly joined his parents who had moved to the United States because of the war. He worked in a hospital before returning to complete his medical education at Madras Medical College.

After graduation, he left India for a residency in the United States, and like many other foreign medical graduates, he found only the less popular hospitals and communities open to him, an experience he described in one of his early New Yorker articles, The Cowpath to America.

From Johnson City, Tennessee, where he was a internal medicine resident from 1980 to 1983, he moved...

... Full Biography
Author Interview
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Name Pronunciation
Abraham Verghese: vur geez with a hard 'g'

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