The Eyes Have It

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 June, 2012, 12:00am


The Eyes Have It
Christopher Liu
The Book Guild, Sussex

This is an unusual book: part history of eye surgery, part family history, part discussion of contemporary ophthalmic surgical techniques, The Eyes Have It: A Personal View is hard to classify, and harder still to enjoy and appreciate. Author Christopher Liu is an ophthalmic surgeon in England; this book was produced to raise funds for the Sussex Eye Hospital.

Liu's father was originally from Burma, where several family members were also doctors. One uncle was director of the inland waterways in post-independence Burma, and Liu's mother moved there from Hong Kong after her marriage: Edith Li comes from the family who established the Bank of East Asia. The tragic loss of two young children impelled her to seek solace in religion, and as a result her son was educated in Catholic schools in Hong Kong and England.

Exactly when, and why, the family left Burma remains unclear. But as Liu, born in 1959, says his first kindergarten was St Teresa's in Kowloon Tong, this must have been in the early 1960s, when prime minister Ne Win's abrupt nationalisation of the economy, and victimisation of Chinese business interests, caused thousands to flee Burma.

Liu hints at a broader story when he writes that 'though Burma was rich in resources, the country was very badly run ... most of my cousins emigrated to America'. After studying at La Salle College, the teenager went to England as a boarder, and has lived there since.

Liu's personal story is sandwiched between a detailed study of the history of ophthalmic surgery from early times, through developments in the late 18th century, and on to the present day. The steady evolution of surgical techniques, and the author's career path, are charted in sometimes confusing detail. Photographs of a young Hong Kong schoolboy and his family are followed, some pages later, by gruesome cataract surgery in primitive conditions in Africa, and truly eye-watering images of eyeballs horribly infected by Egyptian opthalmia, better known today as trachoma.