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Operation Wandering Soul Paperback – April 2, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Powers, the certified (by a MacArthur grant) genius whose last novel was the much-admired Gold Bug Variations , continues to baffle and excite with his new book. Set in the pediatric ward of a big L.A. hospital in the apparently near future, it is a vast, impassioned fantasy-allegory about the plight of the world's children in a time of cynicism, corruption and easy destruction of life. The only recognizable adults are surgical resident Richard Kraft, desperately weary of trying to patch up the shattered lives and bodies of innocents, and therapist Linda Espera, who tries to instill hope through storytelling and play-acting. The two are deeply involved with a band of patients led by a precociously wise but hopelessly crippled Thai girl and a cynical, commanding boy whose rare disease has withered his body into that of an old man. Richard and Linda evoke for the children, or share with the reader, various factual and fabulous accounts of endangered children through the centuries: England during the blitz, the Pied Piper legend rendered amazingly contemporary, the abortive medieval Children's Crusade portrayed by a comic book, flashes of Peter Pan. As always with Powers, the verbal dexterity is amazing, but ultimately exhausting. He is quite capable of fluent sequential narrative, and readers will be relieved when he lapses into it after all the self-conscious brilliance and endlessly impressive allusion. Powers has a remarkable, virtuoso voice and much to say with it, but he desperately needs to curb his apparent need to show it off.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Although shorter than Powers's massive and magnificent The Gold Bug Variations ( LJ 6/15/91), this remarkable novel is just as packed with allusions from literature, history, science, folklore, medicine, and music. On the surface, it is the story of the doomed romance between an overworked, emotionally exhausted pediatric surgeon and a physical therapist and of their efforts to rescue the children in their care from their prescribed fates. But beneath its cover story--and this novel plumbs great depths--this is nothing less than the story of humankind, with the Pied Piper as central metaphor. That tale is turned into traveling theater by the hospital kids and its text provided with such historical glosses as the Children's Crusade and the mass evacuation of school children from London during the Blitz. What are we doing here? Where are we going? These questions echo throughout the book, but finding answers is left to the reader. A dazzling performance: delightful, dismaying, disturbing, doing all that novels are meant to do.
- Charles Michaud, Turner Free Lib., Randolph, Mass.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 2, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006097611X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060976118
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #827,145 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on September 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is the third book by Mr. Powers I have read recently, the options I have at this point are to either, let my mind heal before starting another of his works, or read only a few pages a day. I cannot begin to imagine where he harvests these ideas, or by what type of neural net hat trick he uses to store them, so they can be recalled in the sequencing he desires. He must remember everything his five senses have ever identified without any detail filtered, none at all.
The menagerie that is his Pediatric Ward, the holding pen for the "Pedes" makes George Lucas's Cantina at Mos Eisley look like the local coffee shop. And while there is no music there is "the Rapparition" who not only rhymes but also when he moves, he, "concocts this elaborate triple-level, supersyncopated, free-falling gymnastic routine". And that's about as slow and mellow as this book ever gets.
This is the most emotional book of his I have read. Previous works held the possibility of futures that were none too pleasant, and pasts that may have stung, but this time the tale is in real time. The assault is constant, no quarter given. The Pied Piper of Hamelin fame makes his appearance, but compared to the hopelessness that Dr. Kraft presides over, the Piper is Opera Buffa, comedic relief. The 13th century tale of terror first becomes a light story, and then a play with the real world's broken children of Angel City playing their fictional counterparts. No method acting just be your broken self.
Richard Powers portrays a world that deserves nothing but condemnation. A world where the Children would be better off were they lead away rather than live the lives they have. Adults have done nothing but inflict damage, including our 5th year resident Dr. Kraft.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By James Grimmelmann on March 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
Gold Bug may be Richard Powers' most accomplished and dazzling novel, but for sheer depth of feeling and emotional wallop, Operation Wandering Soul is unequalled. Told with the author's usual technical brilliance and command of novelistic structure, Wandering Soul distinguishes itself in the way Powers' command of language turns into devastatingly effective passages that you don't so much read as feel. The chapter introducing Joy is absolutely heartbreaking, and the novel's conclusion is stunning, one of the top passages of sustained emotional intensity of the last few decades, in my opinion. Richard Powers is a novelist with both heart and head; Operation Wandering Soul has both in abundance.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 6, 1998
Format: Paperback
Powers took a lot of criticizm in '93 for this book, and it doesn't take long to figure out why. The plotline, setting, and flow are muddled, at best. But these things, for a change, aren't central to the book. The book is a quest, and if the brilliant _Goldbug Variations_ represented Power's search for Moonlight in a Chamber, then it could be said that _Wandering Soul_ searches for any sort of light at all.
That light is found in the children Power's characterizes. After reading _Galatea 2.2_, one understands the massive emotional stress Powers was under, (probably a good reason for the bleakness), and Powers seems to want to reclaim his childhood, only to realize he can't. Bipass the stumbling story connectors and non-present plot explanations, and view the child within you trapped in a world it cannot survive. Powers may yet be the most passionate writer in the world, feel it here, if you dare.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Russ Mayes VINE VOICE on September 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
The more I read of Powers' work, the more I believe that he is a writer people will be studying a century from now. While I don't think this novel is quite as good as Plowing the Dark, it is still better than most contemporary novels I read by several orders of magnitude.
The plot follows a doctor named Kraft who is in rotations and serving as a surgeon in a children's ward in a poor section of Los Angeles. Most of the action concerns him and his interactions with Linda--a physical therapist and his love interest--and several patients, including mostly Joy Stepaneevong, a refugee on whom he operates. Kraft is as mentally wounded as his patients are physically, and is near a breakdown through most of the novel. His psychological situation is partly explained by his surroundings and partly by extended flashbacks into his childhood. He was raised in several different countries where his father was apparently part of raising instabilities for the U.S. government. As a result, Kraft has almost no sense of connectedness to anything. Amid all this, Powers weaves allusions to virtually every story involving children--from historical events like the Children's Crusade and the evacuation of London to fictional works like Peter Pan and the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
Stylistically, Powers writes lush, vivid prose. If your ideal prose writer is Hemingway, with his spare and well-honed sentences, then Powers isn't for you. He is more like John Barth or even Sir Philip Sidney than plain style authors. Here's a representative passage, in which Powers describes Kraft and how someone who likes post-modern fiction has latched on to him:
Something about him must emanate this Mr. Potato Head plasticity.
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