From the acclaimed author of The Ash Gardenan illuminating searchlight on the terra incognita where the personal and the political intersect (Newsday)an even more ambitious novel that follows a doctor from the trenches of the Great War into subsequent conflicts whose horrors would soon envelop the world.
The historical Norman Bethunelegendary in both his native Canada and Chinawas a visionary whose dedication touched millions, and as the narrator of this novel he springs to vivid life even as he approaches its end. Rebelling in childhood against his fathers religion, he finds a calling himself, saving lives on the battlefield, only after nearly losing his own in the trenches in France. In Republican Spain he fulfills his idealism, yet before long politics destroy a romance, compromise his achievement, and drive him to seek refuge and purpose in the vast expanse of China. Here, in the service of the man eventually known as Mao Zedong, Bethune contends with Nationalist and Japanese enemies and begins this account of failed loves, cherished beliefs, discoveries, and reversals for the only person who still makes a future seem possible: the daughter he has never seen.
Storytelling at its bestpassionate, wrenching, compellingabout a complex, contradictory man caught in the relentless sweep of history.
Dennis Bock imagines the life of the historical Norman Bethune, keeping the essence of history intact but playing fast and lose with some of the peripheral details, which some readers might consider rather central - such as the fact that the entire novel is addressed to Bethune's daughter who he never met (but historically never had). Having said that, there is no firm evidence that somewhere in the mess of the Spanish Civil War Bethune did not meet a woman and did not have a child, and the novelist must be allowed some leeway to carry out his craft - even though this particular device seems to cause Bock to come unstuck with some critics who feel that in failing to return to his motherless daughter Bethune is all too human but not sufficiently humane. It seems a pity that readers might form such an opinion of Bock's fictional Bethune (and thus, to a greater or lesser extent, of the real Bethune) because of a fictional device - especially as, by the end of the novel, Bock gives sufficient reason to explain why Bethune would be apart from his daughter at this time. (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
New York Times - Nisid Hajari
Bock’s rendition of Bethune’s prose, while obviously striving for historical accuracy, can be stiff and overcomplicated, and Bethune’s cynicism seems out of keeping with his idealism. (The Communist students who have flocked to Mao’s hideout in Yenan, he writes, “live and study, wholly devoted to the improvement of self and society.”) But as with the scientist in “The Ash Garden,” pained by his historical role but not regretful, Bethune’s contradictions are familiar ones. Despite the grand historical backdrop of the novel, he’s only human, after all. We can respect the good he does on the battlefield all the more, knowing he himself is so flawed.
The Boston Globe - Anna Mundow
Those motivations remain a mystery for much of the novel, and this is to the author's credit. Rather than sanctifying Bethune for his politics (he fights against fascism in Spain and personally advises Mao in China) or ridiculing him for his egotism, Bock exposes him incrementally, revealing only as much at a time as the flawed man himself might reveal in this imagined epistle to the daughter he will never meet.
The Pittsburg Tribune-Review - David Walton
Bock's style, like Hemingway's, has journalistic precision and conciseness, but lacks Hemingway's portentousness (and pretentiousness) in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Strangely, or maybe not that strangely, Bock evokes the bravery and idealism of that time with a sharpness and perspective lacking in many novels written then.
A slow, sure novel that burns away the glamor of war.
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.
Booklist - Donna Seaman
Starred Review. [A] beautifully measured yet deeply felt portrayal of a battlefield surgeon....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."
Henry Norman Bethune (Mar 3, 1890 - Nov 12, 1939), known
as Norman, was born in
Gravenhurst, Ontario. He
interrupted his studies at the
University of Toronto to set up
classes for immigrants in a bush
lumber camp in northern Ontario
and then, at the outbreak of
World War I, enlisted in the
Royal Canadian Army Medical
Corps. While serving as as
stretcher bearer in France, he
was wounded at Ypres and
returned home to finish up his
medical studies, receiving his
M.D. in 1916. In 1917 he
re-enlisted in the Royal Navy.
After demobilization, he
remained in England for
post-graduate studies and, in
1923, married Frances Campbell
Penney, the daughter of a
prominent Edinburgh accountant.
They moved to Detroit where
Humanitarian workers define courage in the 21st century. This book gives voice to their stories, to their ability to survive
in the face of death, to their humanity to one another and to those they seek
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