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.
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.
The Communist's Daughter
It is my hope that your understanding will win out against any mistrust or anger you may harbour against me when you finally read this. It is so easy to feel anger, and Lord knows I deserve a good dose of it. But I am trying, and you will see I have been trying for quite some time. I also hope that you will read this many years from now, when you are grown, at a time when this story will be long past. With an adults eyes it is more likely that you will see this letter for what it is, and know the regret and tenderness I feel as I compose this history for you. Of course, I know I have no control over any of this, yet still I hope. The dead must relinquish so much.
Heaven forbid these pages return to you without me, but allowing for such a possibility I give you my word absolutely that I will recount my life as faithfully as I recall it, nothing added, nothing lost.
Will I be dead? That is certainly the way things seem to go around here, but it ...
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).
Full Review (708 words).
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.
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