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The Resurrectionist

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  1,244 ratings  ·  193 reviews
A young doctor wrestles with the legacy of a slave “resurrectionist” owned by his South Carolina medical school.

Nemo Johnston was one of many Civil War–era “resurrectionists” responsible for procuring human corpses for doctors’ anatomy training. More than a century later, Dr. Jacob Thacker, a young medical resident on probation for Xanax abuse and assigned to work public r
Hardcover, 284 pages
Published July 8th 2013 by W. W. Norton & Company
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Average rating 3.58  · 
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 ·  1,244 ratings  ·  193 reviews

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Aug 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Southern literature never strays far from the matter of race, but in The Resurrectionist, Guinn delves into that topic in a way I found unique and well researched. His two protagonists, one pre-Civil War black slave and one 1990s white medical doctor, are linked to the same medical school, and the story seamlessly moves between the two time periods. Nemo the slave robs graves of his fellow African-Americans to help the fledgling medical school and its white masters and doctors-in-training; Dr Ja ...more
Jun 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a 3.5 read for me but I rounded up because the subject matter.

Stories within a story seem to be popular now to help make sense of the past and the present. Guinn’s debut novel provides insight into another disquieting aspect of slavery and how this past affects our ability to be truthful in the present.
Reading the premise and seeing the format of the book – it initially reminded me of The House Girl – a book set in the present and past, told in alternating chapters, where there is a dif
Jul 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013-books-read
The story is about a Civil War-era slave, Nemo Johnston, owned by a medical college, who is forced to provide cadavers for dissection by digging up deceased slaves. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Nemo is not only the school's ressurectionist, butler, and janitor, but is also a skillful surgeon, and unacknowledged (and unappreciated) teacher of anatomy at the school. The bones of the dissected slaves are disposed of in the school's basement under a thin layer of soil and lime. A h ...more
Jaime Boler
Jun 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing

Impeccably researched and minutely detailed, Matthew Guinn’s first novel The Resurrectionist is mined from the dark and almost-forgotten pages of buried history—literally. During renovations of one of the oldest buildings on the campus of the Medical College of Georgia in 1989, human remains were found in the structure’s cellar. Archaeologist Robert Blakely carefully studied the bones and published his findings in a 1997 book entitled Bones in the Basement: Postmortem Racism in Nineteenth-Centu
Feb 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
Sigh. Ok, it's an ARC so keep in mind, some things may change..but it'd have to be alot of editing. Good: historical background, most of the atmosphere, interesting concept. Bad: reallly bad pacing and story development issues; the ending seemed rushed after all the build up, lots of little details that dd up to have big impact on story "just happen" but you don't get enough info about it. I hope editing smooths out the bulk of the issues. I did like the actual historic take, the idea of the sto ...more
Goodreads Description- A young doctor wrestles with the legacy of a slave “resurrectionist” owned by his South Carolina medical school.

Nemo Johnston was one of many Civil War–era “resurrectionists” responsible for procuring human corpses for doctors’ anatomy training. More than a century later, Dr. Jacob Thacker, a young medical resident on probation for Xanax abuse and assigned to work public relations for his medical school’s dean, finds himself facing a moral dilemma when a campus renovation
Shana Elliott
Feb 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I picked up an Advanced Reader's Copy of this yesterday at the bookstore where I work. It is one of the few perks of the job :) After reading the back cover I was expecting a male variation of The House Girl but I was pleasantly surprised.

The Resurrectionist weaves together the stories of Dr. Jacob Thacker, the PR Director of South Carolina Medical School, & Nemo Johnston, a slave purchased by the administrators of the same school right before the Civil War for the sole purpose of stealing corp
Aug 19, 2013 rated it liked it
The Resurrectionist is a fairly run-of-the-mill novel, dealing with traditional Southern themes: namely, the haunting power of the past. And while it's a very average novel in a lot of ways — there's not much in the form of character development for Jacob, the novel's protagonist, and I never really felt like much was at stake throughout the course of the story — what makes it unique is its exploration into a unique aspect of Southern history. The clandestine body-snatching of African American c ...more
This debut historical fiction covers the use of cadavers for medical training, and its 1990s setting alternates with Civil War era tales of a South Carolina medical school that employed a negro slave to dig up freshly-buried bodies from the local negro cemetery for use in the anatomy and dissection laboratory in the basement of the school.

Much of these Civil War parts of the book cover interactions among three entities: Nemo (the resurrection man), Dr. Johnston, and the barely-qualified medical
K.D. Dowdall
May 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Adults
Recommended to K.D. by: Friends
There is a new author for adult fiction who is an incredibly talented writer. His name is Matthew Guinn. This first novel by Mr. Guinn is story-telling at its best and is beautifully written. I was awestruck by the depth of research that Mr. Guinn engaged in that gives the book its incredible authenticity and you will believe every word of it. I honestly thought I was reading non-fiction about a real life series of events that take your breath away with shock and awe. From out of the past, in th ...more
Kathy Martin
Jul 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating book that talks about the early practices at medical schools and current political cover ups when those practices are brought to light.

In the 1999 portion of the story, Jacob Thacker is working PR for his medical school as he serves out a suspension for drug abuse when bones are discovered in the basement. The bones of those of primarily black people who were used for teaching of the medical students in the pre and post Civil War era. Their existence is a PR nightmare for
Shelley Fearn
Jul 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Dr. Jacob Thacker is on probation for Xanax abuse. While he waits for reinstatement, his acts as the PR director for the South Carolina Medical College. When bones are unearthed in the basement of the school's oldest building the question of the bones' origins spark a crisis for the center.

The novel explains the bones in flashbacks to the Civil War era at the school where a young black man is purchased by the school's faculty to act as the institution's resurrectionist or procurer of corpses for
Miss Kate
Jul 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. I found both stories compelling which is a challenge when books mix time periods. I often find, when books include substantial flashbacks, that the more modern story feels either forced or shallow. In this case, Jacob's story (the near past) is not as interesting as Nemo's (19th century) but neither is a shallow caricature and the overall story is fascinating. This book made me want to take another crack at Mary Roach's "Stiff" since I wonder if the gruesome grave rob ...more
Aug 29, 2013 rated it it was ok
Lots of places have skeletons in the closet. This medical school keeps them in the sub-basement.

The novel has some excellent scenes, but at times it felt a little workmanlike - here is the theme, here is the evocative tense change, here is this antebellum set piece, here is the surprise connection. Most of these were in the service of the story, but they still dragged me out of the narrative.
Sep 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I pondered giving this great book 5-stars , but in the end made it four because I was a bit disappointed with how it ended . Excellent effort and educational on a subject that I didh' fully appreciate before the reading . I think we will be reading more from this author ! ...more
~ Cheryl ~
Aug 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I thoroughly enjoyed this fast-paced yet thoughtful historical fiction. The writing is not exactly Hemingway, but I felt it got sharper as the author found his footing. At the start I had my doubts; there were a few clunky scenes as the premise was being established. But before long I was totally on board for this story.

It’s about one hectic week in the life of Jacob Thacker, a medical doctor riding out a suspension for Xanax abuse as the current PR man for a South Carolina medical school. The s
Jan 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
A fascinating look at medical school practices in the 19th century South, The Resurrectionist moves the reader from Civil War times to modern day by examining the lives of two professionals who lead very different but nonetheless challenging lives. Jacob Thacker is a 21st century physician who is on probation for substance abuse, while Nemo Johnston is a slave employed by the medical school ostensibly to serve as a janitor and butler. Nemo, however, is more than that -- he's a resurrectionist, o ...more
Mar 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really liked this debut novel. The author alternates between two narratives. In one a young doctor is working as the public relations officer for a South Carolina medical school while he completes a suspension for Xanax abuse. When the school starts a renovation, bones are discovered in the basement, and a little research discovers that they come from African-Americans who's cadavers were used for anatomy class in the days just before and after the Civil War. The dean wants the discovery kept ...more
Nancy McKibben
Jul 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: readers who like Southern Gothic, readers interested in questions of race
The Resurrectionist
By Matthew Gunn

The Resurrectionist is chiefly the story of the slave Nemo, purchased by a Southern medical school to secretly “resurrect” the bodies of African-Americans for dissection. In the present day, Dr. Jacob Thacker of the same medical university is on probation for prescription drug abuse and working in the PR department in the interim, when a construction crew finds the bones of these same involuntary cadavers buried in the basement of the original medical building.

Jeanne Bufkin
I absolutely LOVED this book. I randomly found it through BookBub, and I was absolutely NOT disappointed. I was afraid that because I know the city/setting that I would be too hyper-critical, but that wasn't the case at all.

As a resident of Columbia, the amount of detail in describing the city both in the Civil War era and present times was astounding and accurate. There were scenes where the main character was driving to other locations and I felt I was in the car with him, not just because of
Pam Butts
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A lot of times when I read stories that are told in multiple eras, I like one story line and not the other, or they connect too neatly. However, I thought both of the stories intertwined in this book were equally compelling and learned much about the history of medical training. The stories moved at a good pace and I always like a satisfactory ending.
Jun 10, 2013 rated it liked it
ARC received in Goodreads giveaway.
A solid entry into Southern gothic fiction with a memorable character in the slave Nemo Johnston, who is purchased by a Civil-war era medical school to be their resurrectionist,i.e. body snatcher, in order to supply fresh cadavers for anatomy dissection.The narrative alternates time frames between the harsh, gruesome, yet oddly redemptive life of an intelligent black man, caught in the confines of a struggling medical school(back in the day, the ability to pay
Aug 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
For those who are not in the medical field you may not be aware that doctors dissect cadavers in med school in order to learn about the body. So if you are squeamish, this is not the book for you. I was fascinated by this story, switching between the 1860s and the 1990s. I read the book in one day! I was unaware that resurrectionist is a term for the person who procured bodies for the medical schools back in the 1800s. Nemo Johnston is a slave who was purchased to do the dirty work of the Univer ...more
Jun 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
Received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads.
The book goes back and forth between two protagonists Jacob of present day and Nemo of the mid 19th century. Jacob is the medical school PR guy after being put on probation for bad behavior and Nemo is a slave bought by the medical school to perform a dirty deed.
As a reader I never knew about these atrocities that occurred in the past so the book was captivating. The whiskey barrel scene awed me and the final medical experiment traumatized
Jan 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An expertly told story of university politics with the backdrop of a historical scandal, The Resurrectionist tells the story of a stately medical school whose skeletons are not buried quite as deeply as some may want to believe.

The plot begins at the end of the 20th century but transitions smoothly to a backstory that takes place in the mid 19th century—a peculiar time in the region, in that it was the last days of legal slavery in the South. Likewise, the grotesque descriptions of medical pract
John Buissink
May 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book grabbed my attention as it begins by painting a picture of a small southern medical college that has to deal with a delicate situation when human bones are found buried in the basement. They are the bones of black people who were the cadavers that were used to help train the students. This leads to an added racial undercurrent that must be dealt with before the story can end.
The book splits into two parts, a 19th century historical tale intertwined with the 20th century mystery. The au
Susan Obryan
May 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
One of the South’s most anticipated novels is Matthew Guinn’s “The Resurrectionist,” due to be published July 8. For his debut novel, Guinn, who lives in the Jackson area, has combined fact and fiction to create an engrossing tale that weaves past actions with present circumstances. Dr. Jack Thacker is working in a South Carolina academic medical center’s PR department as he goes through counseling for drug use. When bodies are discovered in the basement during an expansion project, he learns th ...more
Marne Wilson
May 14, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: giveaways, academia
I liked this book more than I expected to at first. Guinn is a capable writer, which made this book an easy read. I'd never thought much about what goes on behind the scenes at a medical school, and this story gave me two interesting views of it, one present and one past. The reason I'm only giving it three stars is that it seemed to me that Guinn should have paid more attention to his plotting. Everything made sense, but the stakes just weren't very high for either main character, and in the en ...more
Jun 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
My husband won this book in the First Reads Giveaway and recommended that I read it.

Great book! The book's chapters alternate between modern times and mid-1850s, and the type-font changes to help signify the change.

There is a lot going on in the story including early medical school practices, slavery in the South, women's suffrage, and ethics. I don't often want to read a book more than once, but this is one of those books that I'm thinking that I'd like to go back through it again. In other w
Aug 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Good storytelling -- during present day and the Civil War -- about a South Carolina medical school with a PR problem: the bones of former slaves found in the basement of the building where doctors-in-training used to practice with cadavers. Thought-provoking -- and sometimes appalling -- look at what passed for medical training during that period of history and the huge social divide that came back to haunt a present-day institution. But both Nemo, the resurrectionist (body snatcher) and Dr. Jac ...more
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Novel People Of E...: The Resurrectionist is April 2015 book selection 1 3 Apr 09, 2015 11:36AM  

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A native of Atlanta, Matthew Guinn holds degrees in English from the University of Georgia, the University of Mississippi, and the University of South Carolina, where he was personal assistant to the late James Dickey. He lives in Jackson, Mississippi, and teaches creative writing at Belhaven University.

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