cover image The Cape Doctor

The Cape Doctor

E.J. Levy. Little, Brown, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-316-53658-5

Levy (Love, in Theory) delivers an elegant and provocative spin on the life of trans icon James Miranda Barry. Jonathan Mirandus Perry, born Margaret Brackley in Cork, Ireland, in 1795, attends medical school, serves in the British Army, and later joins the household of Lord Charles Somerton in South Africa as his personal physician, where the two men become close. After Somerton becomes seriously ill, Perry becomes careless about keeping up his masculine attire and Somerton discovers his secret. They become lovers for a time, and here Levy provides rich insights on the effects of men’s desire (“To be the object of a man’s fierce desire felt intoxicating, bracing and wounding all at once. A power most women know from girlhood, but which I never had, having become a boy before I ever became a woman”). Perry then becomes pregnant and secretly travels to Mauritius to give birth, and the baby is whisked away to adoptive parents. While many trans advocates and allies will take issue with Levy’s feminist framing of Perry’s story (and, indeed, some already have), which involves Perry referring in his narration to his past self “Margaret” as “she,” Perry’s narration brims with fascinating details about medicine and social mores of the time. This beautifully written work will spark much debate. (June)