The Care of Strangers

Winner of the 2019 Miami Book Fair/de Groot Prize, The Care of Strangers is a moving story about friendship set in a gritty Brooklyn hospital, where a young woman learns to take charge of her life by taking care of others.

Working as an orderly in a gritty Brooklyn public hospital, Sima is often reminded by her superiors that she’s the least important person there. An immigrant who, with her mother, escaped vicious anti-Semitism in Poland, she spends her shifts transporting patients, observing the doctors and residents … and quietly nurturing her aspirations to become a doctor herself by going to night school. Now just one credit short of graduating, she finds herself faltering in the face of pressure from her mother not to overreach, and to settle for the life she has now.

Everything changes when Sima encounters Mindy Kahn, an intern doctor struggling through her residency. Sensing a fellow outsider in need of support, Sima bonds with Mindy over their patients, and learns the power of truly letting yourself care for another person, helping to give her the courage to face her past, and take control of her future.

A moving story about vulnerability and friendship, The Care of Strangers is the story of one woman’s discovery that sometimes interactions with strangers are the best way to find yourself.

Read an excerpt from The Care of Strangers here.

Download the Reading Group Guide here.

Ellen Michaelson is a physician in Portland, Oregon, and an MFA graduate from Pacific University. Her work has appeared in Portland MonthlyWomen in Solitude (SUNY Press), and Literature in Medicine. This is her first book.

“[T]he novel has heart. It’s a[n] . . . affecting glimpse into the evolution of friendship between women facing difficult odds.” Publishers Weekly

“The book is incredibly touching in all senses of the word—in fact, it is about touching—about the way we handle and care for one another. . . . The portrait overall is quite moving. . . . A lovely novella.” —Justin Torres, author of We the Animals

“In this fine and wonderful novel, the work of medicine—of saving lives—is closely related to the work of saving oneself, of staying intact under the pressure of work and inherited prejudices. The novel’s two protagonists are both heroes and outcasts, and Ellen Michaelson shows us an intricate world of medical care that she knows from the inside out. It’s a fascinating story that’s both clear-eyed and warm-hearted.” —Charles Baxter, author of The Feast of Love

“This is a tale of connection and disconnection, between patients, staff, and doctors; between the living and the dead; between parent and child. Sima’s outsider view of her world, tinged with wonder and given over in deft scenework, is a triumph of humanity, endurance, and love.” —Joanna Rose, author of A Small Crowd of Strangers

“Ellen Michaelson is a wise and compassionate writer who understands the workings of a city hospital and the human heart. The Care of Strangers explores the mysteries of medicine and leaves us aching to help our neighbors, however we can.  —Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of Once Upon a River

“A gorgeous, clear-eyed gaze at illness and care, ambition and friendship, noting that sometimes we humans get tangled up. We get it wrong, try harder and find a way to care deeply. Michaelson gives us just what we need during these uncertain times, a humane and hopeful novella.” —Natalie Serber, author of Shout Her Lovely Name

“I’ve just inhaled The Care of Strangers . . . Ellen Michaelson’s prismatic characters together propel the reader through the secrets and truths of how and why we live. Not a book about medicine—although indeed it portrays with remarkable fictional fidelity a gritty New York City hospital in the 1980s—The Care of Strangers lifts the veil on authenticity and generosity and even love. I cannot wait to teach this work—and to read it again.” —Rita Charon, Founder and Executive Director of the Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University

“Michaelson’s success in arranging this unlikely friendship and the understated emotional journeys of her main characters, depicting the reality of hospital life, and portraying patients make for a very engaging read.” —Booklist