"The physician" is a beautiful look into the life in those dusty old days (although just one thousand years ago, not really that far away, if you see what I mean). It is particularly looking at the life from the stand point of religious/cultural conflicts that divided the old societies, and more specifically through the eyes of a young westerner who carries a double burden of being a Christian while disguising as a Jewish student in the Moslem world. The story is taking place in Persia (Iran), and not the Arab part of the Islamic world; therefore the society is the most tolerant version of the Islamic world thanks to the Persian culture. The young English seeks to become a student of Avicena the great physician/philosopher of his time and many centuries to follow. However there is a problem.....only Moslems and Jews can go to medical school in Persia (Iran). He is left with no choice but disguising himself as a young European Jew to enter Persia and travel to Isfahan where Avicena trains new generation of physicians in a different way than anywhere else. This enables the talented writer to take the reader through a diverse experience of encounters and characters.
The writer is biased by his western background, however. Throughout the story there are comments implying discriminations against Jews that sound odd to a Persian who is raised in one of the most tolerant cultures (lets not mix "cultures" with "political systems" that appear temporarily and tarnish the figure of a nation). The fact that only Moslem and Jewish Iranians would be accepted to the school speaks volumes. I am not sure (and this needs to be explored) if Armenians who are Christian and have always lived in peace in Persia were eligible too or not. My guess would be so; in other words it was the Christianity that represented the "militant" West that was not tolerated, not the religion itself (the mention of Armenians and their church in Isfahan in the book corroborates this notion).
There are also occasional confusions about Avicena's Persian (Iranian) nationality which unfortunately is not uncommon; the fact that after adopting Islam as their religion and its political consequences, Persian scholars made their contribution mostly in Arabic writing (as Latin for the Christian world) for a larger exposure, and this at times causes confusion (but you wish not to a scholar like Gordon!). Also, Ala Shah (the king of Persia at the time of Avicena), belonged to the "Daylami" dynasty (not "Samanid", that was an earlier dynasty).
Overall, the book is very attractive, and unique in many regards.