The Doctor’s Bag

Respectful, tender portrait

In The Doctor’s Bag Leo Pleysier presents Auntie Roza, an elderly missionary nun, talking about her life in a convent in south India and in the hospital the order built up there from scratch. What work she can still manage she carries out with great conviction, but she is aware that times have irrevocably changed. The Indian government is tightening its grip on the hospital, setting impossible demands on the recruitment of Indian nuns and nurses. Her fellow-nuns’ attitudes too have shifted, thanks to changes in the Church and in society.

Her bond with Belgium remains strong, but her family ties have faded and during a recent visit ‘home’ she felt an anachronism; she is ‘closer to God’ in India and this is where she would like to be buried.

Roza disapproves of the worldly life of the French nuns preferring to remember Astrid, her own energetic and stylish Mother Superior. Astrid died of cancer. In the final scene, Roza talks about how she restored Astrid’s body to its pristine state, using the instruments from the beautiful calf’s leather doctor’s bag Astrid had given her shortly before her death; it is a symbolic and psychologicallyloaded metaphor for Roza’s yearning for original purity and uncompromised integrity.

Pleysier uses the compact form of a novella, to confront a woman with her origins, with growing secularisation and with her own convictions. Soberly, sparingly, he creates an empathetic portrait of a woman, grown grey from her life’s work. It is a tender, respectful story in which Pleysier, as always, nimbly and sensitively uses language to record distance and alienation.

In Pleysier’s extraordinary work language is not a tool but a raw material, the clay from which the characters mould themselves without the intervention of a narrator.

De Volkskrant

Pleysier, more than anyone, was aware that his ode to this woman would sound most joyful when his words were chosen from the domain of the still and restrained. This book is a masterpiece.

Leeuwarder Courant


De trousse (2004). Fiction, 74 pages.


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