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The Healer's War Paperback – May 17, 2010
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|Paperback, May 17, 2010||
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I read it when it first came out and considered nominating it for the Mythopoeic Award. I decided not to on the basis that the fantasy element was not really mythic in nature. But it got the Nebula Award, which is even better, because that is awarded by authors, honoring excellence among their own.
This is Scarborough's masterpiece. I just reread it and it holds up very well, decades later. Her story of the traumatic experiences of an army nurse are just as relevant today with today's vets. The fantasy device, the amulet given her by the old man, is a wonderful vehicle enabling the main character to grow in empathy and knowledge of "the enemy" - and realizing that the enemy doesn't always look that different from you. I don't want to put in spoilers, but I think that Scarborough does an excellent job showing how the events which happen to her poor character affect the woman long-term, with an eye to hope at the end.
This is an amazing, important book that everyone should read.
Four and a half stars, rounded up to five.
I have wanted to read this book for years. I'm a nurse, I lived during the Viet Nam era, and I've liked some of the author's fantasy. So I finally took my Christmas Amazon gift cards and bought it. Unfortunately, I just couldn't finish it. Between the gloomy tone and the mysticism, I reached the point that I just didn't care what happened next. Does it accurately portray an army nurse's experiences there? Probably, at least up to the point that she leaves on her trip. But I read for enjoyment and I did not enjoy this story.
But it was when she moved her protagonist, an idealistic young woman from the Midwest, into the field and, ultimately, the hands of her country's enemy, that the author performed a marvelous sleight-of-hand: she not only made it all believable, but through fiction and fantasy, she spoke the kind of truth that non-fiction is seldom able to express. The book does not flinch away from violence, and Scarborough employs it skillfully, to enhance the reality of the scene and underline--subtly, I felt--the core futility of being a healer in war, where empathy--to see the enemy as human--can be deadly.
The Healer's War had me turning pages late into the night. It brought back memories--not always a huge plus for a Viet Nam vet--and broke my heart, and made me feel that I'm not the only nurse who came out of Viet Nam questioning my government's rush to "solve" its political issues with war. I would heartily recommend it not only to fantasy buffs, but to mainstream readers who are interested in the era or the war, or who just want a good read. I only wish that this fine book would receive the same level of acclaim enjoyed by Tim O'Brien's fantasy Going After Cacciato.
Susan O'Neill, author, Don't Mean Nothing