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In this artful blend of fact and fiction, Bock (The Ash Garden) spins a stirring what-if story from the legendary—in Canada and China, at least—life of battlefield surgeon Norman Bethune. The Canadian-born doctor's disdain for "the doomed experiment of capitalism" took him to Spain in 1936 to fight against the Fascists, and to China in 1938 to provide medical succor for Mao Tse-tung's ragtag army struggling against the Japanese. His life story, factually intact but fancifully imagined, is recounted through letters to a daughter Bethune never knew (and, historically, never had) written from China but never dispatched. Bock's vivid first-person narrative exquisitely captures the malice of war: Bethune's bloody WWI experiences, the horror of bombing raids during the Spanish Civil War and the numbing deprivation of Chinese peasants trapped between Mao's revolutionary army, the Japanese invaders and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists. But the novel's most affecting moments stem from Bock's portrayal of the troubled soul of a war-weary idealist whose dreams of a better world were battered by ugly reality. The sound historical foundation will resonate with Canadian readers; U.S. readers will appreciate the story as powerful and affecting fiction. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
*Starred Review* After imaginatively considering the freighted legacy of Hiroshima in The Ash Garden (2001), Canadian writer Bock continues his profound inquiry into the morass of war in a beautifully measured yet deeply felt portrayal of a battlefield surgeon. Bock's narrator is based on a historical figure, the Canadian doctor Norman Bethune, who served in the horrific wars of 1930s Spain and China. When he isn't tending to Mao's starving army, Bethune--destitute, ill, and besotted with death--is diligently writing a philosophical yet jarringly frank memoir for the daughter he has never seen. His musings over bombs, blood, betrayals, and lost love offer little in the way of comfort, providing, instead, trenchant insights into human nature. Reminiscent of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead (2004) in gravitas and lyricism, Bock's novel about a man who means to do good in the world, steadfastly faces death, and reveres the planet's beauty is a study in sorrow, courage, and mystery. As Bock's hero unflinchingly parses our insistence on war and our caring more about ideas than life, he also, even amid horror, celebrates "the rapturous wonder of being alive." Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.