Friday, August 27, 2004

the Healer's War

Book Rec

With Vietnam on everyone's minds, I thought I'd recommend a recent read of an older ('88) book; The Healer's War, by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. The author is better known for her rather 'lite' fantasies about contemporary fairy godmothers, but this book is a significant departure for her. Drawing on her experiences as an army nurse in Vietnam, she tells a 'realistic-fantasy' tale of a similar nurse, also deployed to Vietnam. Evocative of M*A*S*H and China Beach without the slapstick, nurse Kitty wonders what she's doing there, questions her nursing and military vocation, and contends with military bureaucracy at its most maddeningly idiotic. Sympathetic to the Vietnamese who are also treated at the army hospital, she is bequeathed an ancient amulet by an elderly holy man. She discovers that wearing the amulet allows her to see people's 'auras', which both causes her to doubt her sanity and becomes a useful source of information. When the martinet that takes over the hospital orders all the 'gooks' to be released, cured or not, she wangles a helicopter flight from an old boyfriend for herself and a young Vietnamese amputee, meaning to get the boy to some people who will take care of him. Of course the helicopter is shot down, killing the pilot and navigator, and Kitty and young Aun find themselves lost in the jungle, unsure who to trust and how to find their way to safety. A very gripping read, and recommended especially for everyone too young to remember Vietnam.

This book won the Nebula award from the Science Fiction Writers of America in '89.

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