COMING JUNE 7, 2022

The Facemaker

Lindsey Fitzharris, the award-winning author of The Butchering Art, presents the compelling, true story of a visionary surgeon who rebuilt the faces of the First World War’s injured heroes, and in the process ushered in the modern era of plastic surgery.

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From the moment that the first machine gun rang out over the Western Front, one thing was clear: mankind’s military technology had wildly surpassed its medical capabilities. Shells and mortar bombs flung men around the battlefield like rag dolls. Ammunition containing magnesium fuses ignited when lodged in flesh. Bodies were battered, gouged, hacked, and gassed. The war claimed millions of lives and left millions more wounded and disfigured. In the midst of this brutality, however, there were also those who strove to alleviate the human suffering. The Facemaker tells the extraordinary story of one such individual: the pioneering plastic surgeon Harold Gillies, who dedicated himself to restoring the burned and broken faces of the injured soldiers under his care.

Gillies, a Cambridge-educated New Zealander, became interested in the nascent field of plastic surgery after encountering the human wreckage on the front. Returning to Britain, he established one of the world’s first hospitals dedicated entirely to facial reconstruction. There, Gillies assembled a unique group of practitioners whose task was to restore what had been torn apart, to recreate what had been destroyed. At a time when losing a limb made a soldier a hero, but losing a face made him a monster to a society that was largely intolerant of facial differences, Gillies restored not just the faces of the wounded but also their spirits.

The Facemaker places Gillies’s ingenious surgical innovations alongside the dramatic stories of soldiers whose lives were wrecked and repaired. It also relates the work of the many doctors, nurses, artists, and orderlies who staffed Gillies’s hospital and boldly attempted to balance their obligations to the army, their patients, and science. The result is a vividly absorbing account of how medicine can be an art, and of what courage and imagination can accomplish in the presence of relentless horror.