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A novel of the Vietnam War, with a magical, mystical twist. Lt. Kitty McCulley, a young and inexperienced nurse tossed into a stressful and chaotic situation, is having a difficult time reconciling her duty to help and heal with the indifference and overt racism of some of her colleagues and with the horrendously damaged soldiers and Vietnamese civilians whom she encounters A novel of the Vietnam War, with a magical, mystical twist. Lt. Kitty McCulley, a young and inexperienced nurse tossed into a stressful and chaotic situation, is having a difficult time reconciling her duty to help and heal with the indifference and overt racism of some of her colleagues and with the horrendously damaged soldiers and Vietnamese civilians whom she encounters during her service at the China Beach medical facilities. She is unexpectedly helped by the mysterious and inexplicable properties of an amulet, given to her by one of her patients, an elderly, dying Vietnamese holy man, which allows her to see other people's "auras" and to understand more about them as a result. This eventually leads to a strange, almost surrealistic journey through the jungle, accompanied by a one-legged boy and a battle-seasoned but crazed soldier and, by the end of the journey, McCulley has found herself and a way to live and survive through the madness and destruction.


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A novel of the Vietnam War, with a magical, mystical twist. Lt. Kitty McCulley, a young and inexperienced nurse tossed into a stressful and chaotic situation, is having a difficult time reconciling her duty to help and heal with the indifference and overt racism of some of her colleagues and with the horrendously damaged soldiers and Vietnamese civilians whom she encounters A novel of the Vietnam War, with a magical, mystical twist. Lt. Kitty McCulley, a young and inexperienced nurse tossed into a stressful and chaotic situation, is having a difficult time reconciling her duty to help and heal with the indifference and overt racism of some of her colleagues and with the horrendously damaged soldiers and Vietnamese civilians whom she encounters during her service at the China Beach medical facilities. She is unexpectedly helped by the mysterious and inexplicable properties of an amulet, given to her by one of her patients, an elderly, dying Vietnamese holy man, which allows her to see other people's "auras" and to understand more about them as a result. This eventually leads to a strange, almost surrealistic journey through the jungle, accompanied by a one-legged boy and a battle-seasoned but crazed soldier and, by the end of the journey, McCulley has found herself and a way to live and survive through the madness and destruction.

30 review for The Healer's War: A Fantasy Novel of Vietnam

  1. 4 out of 5

    Stuart

    The Healer's War: Harrowing tale of a Vietnam combat nurse Originally posted at Fantasy Literature This is another Nebula winner I’ve had on the shelf ever since it was published in 1998, but hadn’t got around to reading. So when I found an audio version on Audible narrated by Robin Miles, one of my favorite female narrators after listening to N.K. Jemisin’s phenomenal The Fifth Season, that was enough to pull it to the top of my TBR list. Elizabeth Ann Scarborough is mostly known as a writer of h The Healer's War: Harrowing tale of a Vietnam combat nurse Originally posted at Fantasy Literature This is another Nebula winner I’ve had on the shelf ever since it was published in 1998, but hadn’t got around to reading. So when I found an audio version on Audible narrated by Robin Miles, one of my favorite female narrators after listening to N.K. Jemisin’s phenomenal The Fifth Season, that was enough to pull it to the top of my TBR list. Elizabeth Ann Scarborough is mostly known as a writer of humorous fantasy novels, along with several collaborations with Anne McCaffrey, so it was quite a surprise to discover that she was a combat nurse in Vietnam, and The Healer’s War is a fictional treatment of her experiences there, complete with fantasy elements. The Healer’s War is the story of Lieutenant Kitty McCulley, an inexperienced young nurse who feels it’s not fair for just young American men to go off to Vietnam and risk their lives, so she signs on for a stint as a combat nurse at China Beach. The first third of the book is about her struggles with the stressful conditions, away from home, fending off constant sexual advances from the soldiers (though not always), and trying to come to terms with the chaos and brutality of war. Though she is not on the front lines dodging bullets, land mines, Viet Cong soldiers, hostile villagers, and punji-stick traps, she treats the young soldiers that have to deal with these conditions every day, frequently suffering horrendous physical injuries, and just as often psychological trauma like PTSD along with the anger and suspicion that come from distrust of the South Vietnamese and questions as to why the hell they are halfway across the world fighting Communism when their supposed allies don’t seem to want them there. The Healer’s War pulls no punches when describing the dreadful injuries of war, but what stands out is that Kitty treats Vietnamese civilians as well as US soldiers, and actually forms closer bonds with her Vietnamese patients, who are just caught in the middle. Everyone is a victim, sacrificed for a larger Cold War political chess game between the US and Communist powers like China and the Soviet Union. So whether her patients are American soldiers, South Vietnamese civilians, or even Viet Cong POWs, her mission remains to treat their injuries and bring them comfort. One of her patients is an old man named Xe with a mysterious amulet that he refuses to surrender, even when going into surgery. Despite being a double-amputee, he seems to have a strange power and aura of strength that draws her to him. When the amulet comes into her possession, she discovers she can see and shape the psychic auras of others, which helps her in her treatment of patients. The first half of The Healer’s War is hardly science-fiction or fantasy at all — it is a memoir of a young nurse treating soldiers in Vietnam, and also about her private relationships with the soldiers, all of whom are desperately horny for the company of an American woman. It’s quite funny how they all try to pick her up, some with crude comments, others with more finesse, but frequently they are married and concealing it. After all, they are far from home and could be killed any day. It’s both flattering and insulting to her how much attention she gets. Eventually she does meet a handsome and fairly charming chopper pilot named Tony, and they are able to share some intimate moments amid the stress and misery. However, when Kitty is transferred to a new medical facility and assigned a new head doctor, his virulent racism and hatred of all Vietnamese people (because his younger brother was killed in Vietnam) leads to an insurmountable conflict due to her close bonds with her Vietnamese patients. One day he simply orders her to discharge all of them, saying he’d be damned if he devotes a single resource to helping “the enemy.” This includes many of her close friends, and sending these amputees to local Vietnamese clinics amounts to a death sentence. It’s a very emotionally-wrenching situation, very finely described. The final third of the book is the only part in which the fantasy element becomes prominent, as Kitty is stranded in the forest with a one-legged young Vietnamese boy and a crazed black American soldier who has lost his entire company. As they wander through combat zones, hoping to avoid the Viet Cong and find friendly US forces, Kitty discovers just how much psychological damage the war has inflicted on both herself and her companions, assisted by the aura-sensing power of the amulet. When they are then captured by Viet Cong soldiers, things get very complicated. The resolution is dramatic but morally-ambiguous, as any treatment of the Vietnam War must inevitably be. It did remind me of Vietnam war films like Platoon, Casualties of War, and even Coming Home and Born on the 4th of July at the end. The Healer’s War is a memorable Vietnam War memoir with a unique female perspective, and though its fantasy elements are not really crucial, they do add to her ability to try to understand and heal the wounds of war. I would recommend it to anyone who wants some perspective of this war, though it is a visceral and gut-wrenching experience and not for the faint of heart.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ryandake

    it's pretty rare to read a war novel by a woman--and despite the sf trappings, that's what this one is. for that reason alone it's worth a read. our protag, Kitty, is a Vietnam-era nurse in a seaside base camp, relatively safe from being bayonetted but not immune to rockets. she cares for both American GI and Vietnamese civilian patients--with thorough professionalism for the former, and actual care for the latter, as the Vietnamese patients are there for a longer haul, and she has time to get to it's pretty rare to read a war novel by a woman--and despite the sf trappings, that's what this one is. for that reason alone it's worth a read. our protag, Kitty, is a Vietnam-era nurse in a seaside base camp, relatively safe from being bayonetted but not immune to rockets. she cares for both American GI and Vietnamese civilian patients--with thorough professionalism for the former, and actual care for the latter, as the Vietnamese patients are there for a longer haul, and she has time to get to know them. one such patient is an old monkish sort (unfortunately, in this time) named Xe, who has an interesting amulet that allows people who touch it to see auras. ok, so the whole aura thing is pretty dated in 2013, and would have been fairly woo-woo in 1989 when this novel was published, but it's actually best to ignore it except as emotional radar in this novel. Kitty has adventures behind the lines, which one must in a war novel. but they aren't the usual war-novel adventures, which lay on thick one's heroism and fortitude. Kitty is not the Queen of Fortitude, and that's what makes this novel interesting. she hasn't got that aw-heck-this-sucks-but-it's-a-war-bad-things-happen attitude. because even in a war, bad things don't just happen. people choose to do bad things, and even when the choices are few to none, it's all still a choice. the book also covers some interesting psychological turf--the destruction of the self; the ubiquitous failure and feeling of failure that war sows like an endless, bleak harvest; the ravages of PTSD; the difficulty of adjusting to civilian life after. in a way, it's a pity the author chose to do this book as sf; as Rumi says, "don't avoid the knife." one senses that the author in this case dodged quite a bit. but only someone crueler than i could really blame her for that, and i do believe she tried to face the experience thoughtfully. always a plus: there are no purely good guys here, no purely bad guys, and even the crazy guys are pitiable. another: she writes the times exceedingly well. i kept feeling i had fallen through a hole into the 1970s. Kitty's sense of betrayal is something that i fear younger readers will miss, having been betrayed before they were born and growing up knowing it, but it's a sad coda to the novel, and quite true to life. a good read. quite worth the time, in particular for those interested in Vietnam-era war literature.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tamora Pierce

    Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, first known to me as the author of bawdy, funny fantasy, was a nurse durse the American war in Vietnam. THE HEALER'S WAR is what came of her time there, and it is every bit as gut-wrenching and real a Vietnam memoir as the best of the other Vietnam books I've read: Tim O'Brien's THE THINGS THEY CARRIED and LOOKING FOR CACCIATO, Jim Webb's FIELDS OF FIRE, Lynda Van Devanter's HOME BEFORE MORNING, and Michael Herr's DISPATCHERS. There is a fantasy element to HEALER'S WAR Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, first known to me as the author of bawdy, funny fantasy, was a nurse durse the American war in Vietnam. THE HEALER'S WAR is what came of her time there, and it is every bit as gut-wrenching and real a Vietnam memoir as the best of the other Vietnam books I've read: Tim O'Brien's THE THINGS THEY CARRIED and LOOKING FOR CACCIATO, Jim Webb's FIELDS OF FIRE, Lynda Van Devanter's HOME BEFORE MORNING, and Michael Herr's DISPATCHERS. There is a fantasy element to HEALER'S WAR, one that is passed to the nurse hero by a Vietnamese hero that helps her to survive, but for the most part it is a learning device for the nurse as she allows herself to think about the things she sees. She is a very real young woman, as are the men and women she encounters, military and civilian, American and Vietnamese alike. No one gets off the hook here. Anyone who is having trouble understanding their own war or their own veterans could do a lot worse than reading this book as a way into this bleak country. Scarborough is a kindly guide, but she doesn't lie to you.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Megan Baxter

    Still, we spent most of our beer-drinking time talking about the book, so I'll count it as a win. And one thing that kept coming up for both my husband and I was that this really wasn't a fantasy. Yes, there's an amulet in the book with a few magic powers, but it's in some ways such a minor part of a straight-forward Vietnam novel. The most magical power it seems to have (other than, you know, healing) is as a plot pass to get a white woman in among the Vietnamese people and then the Viet Cong w Still, we spent most of our beer-drinking time talking about the book, so I'll count it as a win. And one thing that kept coming up for both my husband and I was that this really wasn't a fantasy. Yes, there's an amulet in the book with a few magic powers, but it's in some ways such a minor part of a straight-forward Vietnam novel. The most magical power it seems to have (other than, you know, healing) is as a plot pass to get a white woman in among the Vietnamese people and then the Viet Cong without long-term injury. Note: The rest of this review has been withheld due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here. In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Whyte

    http://nhw.livejournal.com/698312.html[return][return]This was one of those years when the Nebula system managed to recognise an exceptional novel that would never win a Hugo. The Healer's War is a somewhat autobiographical account of the Vietnam war as seen by an American military nurse, with precisely one sfnal element: a magic amulet, with slightly healing powers, which gives the narrator the power of empathy with the Vietnamese of all sides and of none (and indeed with her fellow Americans a http://nhw.livejournal.com/698312.html[return][return]This was one of those years when the Nebula system managed to recognise an exceptional novel that would never win a Hugo. The Healer's War is a somewhat autobiographical account of the Vietnam war as seen by an American military nurse, with precisely one sfnal element: a magic amulet, with slightly healing powers, which gives the narrator the power of empathy with the Vietnamese of all sides and of none (and indeed with her fellow Americans as well). It is a fair comment that the magic amulet is a literary device that enables the author to tell the story she wants (Scarborough herself says so in an afterword). But I think it's still entirely legitimate to count the book within the genre, and to acknowledge its merits accordingly.[return][return]It's a stark contrast with other war stories I have read, which tend to concentrate on the view of the individual soldier (eg, Catch-22 and War and Peace). The Healer's War concentrates on the non-soldiers involved in war, and indeed its military characters tend to be pretty unpleasant, whether Americans or Vietnamese of either side. But I felt that none of them slipped into caricature; the narrator's commitment to empathy helped to avoid that trap. It was a gripping and moving read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    I would never, ever suggest censoring any piece of literature, especially one as honest as this despite the fact that it's fiction. However, I would have given it four stars if only I could have stomached the brutality. That's my own failing, of course, but I wasn't exactly prepared for it, as about 75% of the book was probably about to my limit of violence, and then the jungle happens... I do realize this was written in 1988 and as such does not reference anything happening in today's world, but I would never, ever suggest censoring any piece of literature, especially one as honest as this despite the fact that it's fiction. However, I would have given it four stars if only I could have stomached the brutality. That's my own failing, of course, but I wasn't exactly prepared for it, as about 75% of the book was probably about to my limit of violence, and then the jungle happens... I do realize this was written in 1988 and as such does not reference anything happening in today's world, but good literature is often relate-able through the years, and I think the reason I had such a gut-wrenching reaction (really, to the point of nausea) is because of what is happening in the Middle East right now.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Michael Burnam-Fink

    In theory, this should be right up my alley. A fantasy novel set during the Vietnam War. I can neither confirm nor deny that I've run that D&D campaign multiple times. I'll even go for Magical Realism Vietnam War a la Apocalypse Now or Going After Cacciato. In some ways, given the shambles of the actual war, it serves well enough as a playground for psychological drama above logical sense. The first half plays it pretty straight. Lt. Kitty McCulley is a nurse in Vietnam in 1969, much like our aut In theory, this should be right up my alley. A fantasy novel set during the Vietnam War. I can neither confirm nor deny that I've run that D&D campaign multiple times. I'll even go for Magical Realism Vietnam War a la Apocalypse Now or Going After Cacciato. In some ways, given the shambles of the actual war, it serves well enough as a playground for psychological drama above logical sense. The first half plays it pretty straight. Lt. Kitty McCulley is a nurse in Vietnam in 1969, much like our author. Her life consists of 12 hour shifts on the ward, treating a rotating cast of wounded GIs and a long-term group of Vietnamese patients. Americans don't stay long, either well enough to head back to their units or hurt enough to be medevaced to Japan. The Vietnamese lucky enough to get care at a medical facility are there for quite a while. There's a lot to be said about Xinhdy, a cheerful woman with a hip wound; Ahn, a little boy who lost a leg; and Xe, a holy man who lost two legs. When she's not on the ward, Kitty is dating helicopter pilots and suntanning at the beach. The memoir is pretty solid, as far as these things go. I've read a lot of memoirs from the soldiers perspective, and for them a date with an American nurse was the white whale-holy grail of things to do in Vietnam, and it's fascinating to see that sexual environment from the other side. The never very pretty Kitty has her pick of sexy, charming, crazy liars. The second half of the book, the fantasy part, is where it comes apart. Xe bestows an amulet on Kitty that lets her see auras and heal by touch, and then dies. When a new surgeon comes in and begins kicking the Vietnamese out of the ward to die, Kitty finagles an evacuation for Ahn. She and the boy are shot down in the jungle, where they wander through an increasingly unlikely series of encounters. They meet a crazy GI who's the lone survivor of his squad, and gain the loyalty of a village by fighting a giant snake and healing the victims of an airstrike. Then Kitty is captured by the VC and rescued by the Americans, only to have a General propose to kill her in case she's been subverted. At the end, it's back to The World, only to find America unusual and strange. Kitty drifts around in a nurses version of a PTSD fugue, working night shifts and edging towards suicide, only to find salvation when her flight to LAX arrives at the same time as a planeload of boat people refugees. The memoir worked well enough, and I'm a fan of the 'lightly fictionalized' memoir genre, since few people have lives that nicely match a three act structure. But I didn't much like the magic. Auras are a cheap trick to tell readers the emotions of characters rather than showing. The ability to heal by touch is a power fantasy for a nurse, in the same way that to kill by will is a power fantasy for a warrior, but Kitty doesn't do much with it. And while the parts of the story set in the hospital felt very grounded, the parts set in the hinterlands of Vietnam felt very floaty and imaginary. You can be there, without being there.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Contrarius

    This won the Nebula in 1989. On the one hand I can see why, but on the other hand I'm left scratching my head a bit. It's an often grim and brutal portrait of the reality of the Vietnam War, and it has a ring of authenticity given that Scarborough was herself an army nurse there. The fantasy component -- an amulet -- is almost incidental to the essentials of the story. That's the part that makes me scratch my head about the award -- this is barely a fantasy at all. As you might expect from a real This won the Nebula in 1989. On the one hand I can see why, but on the other hand I'm left scratching my head a bit. It's an often grim and brutal portrait of the reality of the Vietnam War, and it has a ring of authenticity given that Scarborough was herself an army nurse there. The fantasy component -- an amulet -- is almost incidental to the essentials of the story. That's the part that makes me scratch my head about the award -- this is barely a fantasy at all. As you might expect from a realistic war story, few people here are all bad or all good, including the bad guys (with one exception near the end). One surgeon is a virulent racist but a kind and dedicated doctor to the American wounded; the narrator herself cares deeply for her Vietnamese patients but is shallow and self-centered in other ways; a Viet Cong colonel is a barbaric warrior but also intelligent and rational, and so on. And, as you might also expect from a Vietnam story, there is no happy ever after and no tidily tied-up plot threads. During the course of the book, the first-person narrator moves from completely overwhelmed to competent caregiver to head nurse to the depths of hopelessness and desperation to prolonged shellshock and betrayal to a dawning awareness that life continues, the pieces need to be picked up, and she can help with the healing process. No tidy story arc here! Over all this is a moving and gripping account. And though the fantastical elements were a distraction at times, I can see that Scarborough was using them as a vehicle to think about empathy, interpersonal connections and understanding, possibilities for healing, and so on -- a physical manifestation of the need to reach out and cross boundaries. So the amulet and its consequences did have a place. As for the narrator -- this was narrated by Robin Miles, an excellent narrator who has done a boatload of books. The use of Miles is interesting in and of itself, in fact. You see, Miles is black -- but neither the author nor the MC are. Miles has narrated a lot of "black" books -- black authors and/or MCs -- and I've previously enjoyed books she's done for NK Jemisin and Nnedi Okorafor. But you would never guess her race here, except possibly for her authentic portrayal of a black Southern soldier in the later parts of the book. So -- am I being racist to even notice that she is black? Is it a hopeful sign that a black person is narrating a non-"black" book? What if a white person narrated a "black" book? Why do we even still care these days? Things to ponder in our unsettled age.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Berni Phillips

    I read this book when it first came out and debated with myself about whether to nominate it for the Mythopoeic Award. It is an amazing book, in my opinion, but I didn't consider it mythopoeic. After, I regretted not nominating it, but it won the Nebula Award, so that's even better. I find it as powerful today as when it first came out. I still can't quite consider it mythopoeic, but it is a tremendous story of change and struggle. Scarborough drew on her own experience as an army nurse in Viet N I read this book when it first came out and debated with myself about whether to nominate it for the Mythopoeic Award. It is an amazing book, in my opinion, but I didn't consider it mythopoeic. After, I regretted not nominating it, but it won the Nebula Award, so that's even better. I find it as powerful today as when it first came out. I still can't quite consider it mythopoeic, but it is a tremendous story of change and struggle. Scarborough drew on her own experience as an army nurse in Viet Nam, and this book has the ring of truth. The book starts with Kitty in panic mode, trying desperately to save a young girl she accidentally overdosed because she (Kitty) was resentful at the doctor who had prescribed the meds. We see Kitty grow from a rather truculent and somewhat careless young woman into a compassionate healer. This is accomplished largely through the magical amulet which a dying patient gives her. Learning to use the amulet, Kitty learns about it and herself. I don't want to say more because it would require spoilers, but I found Kitty's journey to be quite believable, especially her reactions after she returns to the States. This book could so easily have been written today about an army vet who did a stint in Iraq. It's timeless and priceless. Check it out.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    The Healer's War is a great example of a book I shouldn't have liked for at least two reasons. One, it's set in the Vietnam War, a downer topic if ever there was one. Second, it's yet another example of the pseudo-fantasy genre. In other words, fiction that's been classified as a fantasy due to some minute, barely discernable use of fantasy elements in the story. In this case, the fantasy part is an amulet that allows an army nurse to read people's auras. So disappointing! As far as I'm concerne The Healer's War is a great example of a book I shouldn't have liked for at least two reasons. One, it's set in the Vietnam War, a downer topic if ever there was one. Second, it's yet another example of the pseudo-fantasy genre. In other words, fiction that's been classified as a fantasy due to some minute, barely discernable use of fantasy elements in the story. In this case, the fantasy part is an amulet that allows an army nurse to read people's auras. So disappointing! As far as I'm concerned, only pseudo-science-fiction is a bigger travesty. That said, once I got over the idea that I was reading a fictionalized memoir instead of a fantasy, I found The Healer's War a moving and worthwhile read. The author is skillful in portraying the horror and human cost of war in so many ways, big and small. The characters are compelling and surprising in their complexity, given that many have only a brief role to play in the narrative. I got caught up in the madness of war, the madness it brings to otherwise decent human beings, and the impossibility of ever knowing who is truly friend or foe. This is a book that deserves to be read for what it is and not for what it pretends to be.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sineala

    This is a very well-written book that I am never, ever going to read again. I think possibly I said the same thing about Octavia Butler's Kindred, and for similar reasons. There's only so much brutality I can take. Everything else I have read by this author has been relatively light and fluffy formulaic SF/F. This is not one of those books. This is an actual war novel about being an Army nurse in Vietnam, informed by the author's actual life experience being an Army nurse in Vietnam. There's not a This is a very well-written book that I am never, ever going to read again. I think possibly I said the same thing about Octavia Butler's Kindred, and for similar reasons. There's only so much brutality I can take. Everything else I have read by this author has been relatively light and fluffy formulaic SF/F. This is not one of those books. This is an actual war novel about being an Army nurse in Vietnam, informed by the author's actual life experience being an Army nurse in Vietnam. There's not a lot of magic in this particular fantasy novel -- there is a magic healing amulet, but mostly its purpose is to give the main character some kind of minimal boost up by being able to impress people with her healing abilities so that she survives large sections of the book. I had thought this was going to be some kind of quest-focused fantasy but nope. It's a war novel. I mean, it's a very good war novel, but you should probably be aware of that, going in.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Herman

    Have not read very many books on the Vietnam war, so the only book I can compare this too would be Norman Mailer “The Naked and the dead” I would also say it’s a bit like Octavia Butler’s books in the fantasy social issue elements but I can also say it was a very effective book, one that capture the horror and absurdly of war the conflicted nature of people trying to survive it in the only way they can. I was thinking 4 stars but really it earns itself 5 such an honest portrayal from a women’s v Have not read very many books on the Vietnam war, so the only book I can compare this too would be Norman Mailer “The Naked and the dead” I would also say it’s a bit like Octavia Butler’s books in the fantasy social issue elements but I can also say it was a very effective book, one that capture the horror and absurdly of war the conflicted nature of people trying to survive it in the only way they can. I was thinking 4 stars but really it earns itself 5 such an honest portrayal from a women’s viewpoint of war, of being a non-combatant healer a witness to the lives of Vietnamese and US military of betrayal, and PTSD, so many cross streams of stories going on here this is really deep I completely enjoyed it. Highly recommend this book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    Old read. Very good book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Martin

    Really enjoyed it. There's just a little fantasy in this Vietnam War adventure about an U.S. Army nurse. There's a full description of daily life of a nurse in a casualty ward, and this is my favorite part of the book. She later finds herself trying to avoid capture in the jungle, where she is surrounded by enemies from both armies. I found the threat from the general near the end of the book hard to swallow, but that's the only flaw in this excellent book. It's well-written, moves quickly, has m Really enjoyed it. There's just a little fantasy in this Vietnam War adventure about an U.S. Army nurse. There's a full description of daily life of a nurse in a casualty ward, and this is my favorite part of the book. She later finds herself trying to avoid capture in the jungle, where she is surrounded by enemies from both armies. I found the threat from the general near the end of the book hard to swallow, but that's the only flaw in this excellent book. It's well-written, moves quickly, has many surprises, many flawed yet believable characters, and is written with depth. Good narrator. 4.5 stars

  15. 4 out of 5

    Paul,

    This book takes a long time to get started, as far as the plot goes. So, it doesn't get really hi marks for "being interesting". However, the beauty (and shame) of this book is the picture that it paints of a Army nurse's experience of the Vietnam war. The lostness, cynicism, and hopelessness are characteristic of this type of novel, and understandably so. I imagine that the writers who return from Iraq and Afghanistan will write the same kind of literature. Scarborough does an excellent job of This book takes a long time to get started, as far as the plot goes. So, it doesn't get really hi marks for "being interesting". However, the beauty (and shame) of this book is the picture that it paints of a Army nurse's experience of the Vietnam war. The lostness, cynicism, and hopelessness are characteristic of this type of novel, and understandably so. I imagine that the writers who return from Iraq and Afghanistan will write the same kind of literature. Scarborough does an excellent job of showing the Vietnam war from a Vietnamese perspective. A good read. Here are a few of my favorite quotes. Giangelo, a doctor who had somehow managed to escape ascending to deity when he gained his M.D., was better known as Geppetto by the nurses, because of the kindness with which he deployed his carpentry skills. It probably didn't make much difference to them if they were growing rice for South Vietnam or for North Vietnam, as long as they were able to eat it themselves. Some of the senior officers I'd talked with said America should have supported Ho Chi Minh to begin with. And some of the guys with a couple of years of college claimed that the war was not about communism and freedom but about boosting the economy and making Southeast Asia safe for the oil companies and the international military-industrial complex, whatever that was. While that sounded pretty paranoid, it was less hokey than saying that the whole war was strictly for the sake of political ideals. The only people who said anything about political ideals recited their lines in the same way church ladies said "blood of the Lamb" and "fallen from grace," or the Communists reputedly talked of "imperialist running dogs." But promises were being broken all around. Most of us in Nam were the children of the last war that was ever supposed to be fought anywhere in the world. All of the baby boys were promised that they would grow up and become successful and all of the baby girls were promised that someday their princes would come. Then along came the goddamn government and bingo, it sent the princes off to battle communism and issued them the right to hate anyone not in their unit. Then it sent them home in body bags, or with their handsome faces melted or blown away, their bodies prematurely aged with disease or terrible wounds, and their idealistic souls turned into sewers. And those were the survivors. Where the hell did that leave me and all the other women?

  16. 4 out of 5

    Suz

    I had been seeing this book crop up in various book clubs I belonged to, and discussed by people I follow, but I had never gotten around to reading it. Because it is narrated by the incredible Robin Miles, I picked it up to give it a try. While I found the novel interesting, I didn't really latch onto it very well. Kitty is our main character and the story is told through her eyes. She's a nurse in Vietnam, during the war, just trying to survive and have what life she can. Along the way, she gets I had been seeing this book crop up in various book clubs I belonged to, and discussed by people I follow, but I had never gotten around to reading it. Because it is narrated by the incredible Robin Miles, I picked it up to give it a try. While I found the novel interesting, I didn't really latch onto it very well. Kitty is our main character and the story is told through her eyes. She's a nurse in Vietnam, during the war, just trying to survive and have what life she can. Along the way, she gets an amulet from an older, dying shaman-like Vietnamese man and learns to see, read, and heal through auras. Eventually bad things happen, she is captured, and then transferred back to the States. The author did a phenomenal job, I though, of transporting the reader to the Vietnam war and the proverbial hell of war is well represented. All of the "bad" and "good" guys were all very grey, so there were no evil vs good comparisons - one could understand the motivations of any of the characters, even the bat-shit crazy ones. Kitty, herself, was amazing in that she was not. She was a regular nurse, essentially tricked into the joke of a war, and she was trying to learn how to survive with what skills she had in that kind of atmosphere. I found her trials of dealing with being captured and then further trials of returning to civilization very well done. It could have been a lot darker (and maybe should have, but then I would have probably not finished), but I'm glad it was not. I think it gave a great look into PTSD and the loss of self for a soldier without being incredibly dark. Was it worth the read? Absolutely. Did I like it? Absolutely not. It was a fine book, and I think that someone like me, a Gen-Xer who has never seen the war, but has absolutely been tangentially exposed to the brutality, betrayal, and horror that was the Vietnam war would absolutely appreciate it, but it's not necessarily a trip I want to take too often.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bill Blocksom

    This was a good read. Action, adventure, fantasy. A good story. It helped me see a little more clearly the complexity of the Viet Nam war through the eyes and experiences of an Army nurse. I really enjoyed it and it has left me with a lot to think about.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kris

    Really surprised it won a Nebula, but it was good. Written about a nurse in the Vietnam War by a Vietnam vet nurse. Essentially no sci-fi. I am a sucker for good stories where people can see auras.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Pamela

    So good. Review in a bit.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jordan Dennis

    I thought the book did a good job of humanizing war. While working in the hospital, Kitty divides her time before treating American soldiers and Vietnamese civilians. Scarborough worked hard to make the Vietnamese characters seem real, well-rounded people. Later, during the jungle portion of the story, Scarborough shows how the ordinary people are trapped. In order to just survive, they have to keep both sides of the conflict happy. It's not an easy job, and it takes a huge toll. I liked the magic I thought the book did a good job of humanizing war. While working in the hospital, Kitty divides her time before treating American soldiers and Vietnamese civilians. Scarborough worked hard to make the Vietnamese characters seem real, well-rounded people. Later, during the jungle portion of the story, Scarborough shows how the ordinary people are trapped. In order to just survive, they have to keep both sides of the conflict happy. It's not an easy job, and it takes a huge toll. I liked the magic The magical talisman doesn't help Kitty "win;" she doesn't gain some kind of power that allows her to overcome her challenges. Rather, it helps her see what lies underneath the surface of those around her. The first-person narrative of the book is vital -- if it were told in third person, the story would not have been quite as effective. Also, as a woman, Kitty didn't have to go to Vietnam. She could have found plenty of work in an American hospital. But she took a commission voluntarily because she wanted to help. I think the book would have had a much less vibrant perspective if it were through the lens of a drafted serviceman or even a male nurse. I think this is an important book, particularly because it shows the personal effect of battle on people. It thinks about who is involved -- the "good guys," the "bad guys," and the people just caught in the middle. It also ends well, showing Kitty struggling with PTSD and finding a way out. It's especially important because the genre tends to glorify war to a certain extent. I wish there were more stories like this. I'd recommend this for people who are looking for a different kind of look at the violence people inflict.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    The Healer's War surprised me with both it's readability and deft use of fantastical elements in Scarborough's portrayal of the Vietnam war. Read this book if you want to brush up on your empathy and you don't mind some gruesome circumstances. I'm not much interested in books on wars (unless they're covering Star Wars), and my knowledge about the US involvement in Vietnam is limited to "The Things They Carried", "Forever War", and like 10 pages devoted to the subject in my high school history tex The Healer's War surprised me with both it's readability and deft use of fantastical elements in Scarborough's portrayal of the Vietnam war. Read this book if you want to brush up on your empathy and you don't mind some gruesome circumstances. I'm not much interested in books on wars (unless they're covering Star Wars), and my knowledge about the US involvement in Vietnam is limited to "The Things They Carried", "Forever War", and like 10 pages devoted to the subject in my high school history textbook. That said, I think this mild fantasy has done more for my understanding of that event than most non-fiction accounts could have. It's hard to declare a winner in even the most clear cut conflicts, but this story makes it impossible to think that their could be a winner in Vietnam, including those who didn't fight. This book succeeded on basically every front for me. I was initially wondering when the fantasy was going to show up, but even that didn't distract from the narrative. While I understand this book is a piece of fiction, I'm considering it in the same vein as Colson Whitehead's "The Underground Railroad" - the exact story didn't happen as written, but the events did happened to people at large. Like that book, I wish this one was more fiction than history given the subject. Similarly, I think it's a testament to those involved that they managed to find strength to not just carry on, but in many cases, flourish.

  22. 5 out of 5

    David Eisler

    One of the very few Vietnam war novels written by a female veteran of the conflict (an Army nurse). The fantasy element of the story is minimal but powerful, and the author paints an empathetic picture of the Vietnamese people - a rarity for most of the fiction written about the war.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Joe Boudreault

    This is a war novel set in Vietnam, written in the first person by an army nurse. But it is more than that. The Healer's War, which won the 1989 Nebula Award for sci-fi, is a journey through the empathetic relationship that one mixed-up nurse has with her native patients in that war-torn country. The protagonist, Kitty McCulley, is drafted from Kansas and assigned to the Vietnamese ward of an army hospital somewhere on the China coast of Vietnam. She makes a medication mistake with a patient and This is a war novel set in Vietnam, written in the first person by an army nurse. But it is more than that. The Healer's War, which won the 1989 Nebula Award for sci-fi, is a journey through the empathetic relationship that one mixed-up nurse has with her native patients in that war-torn country. The protagonist, Kitty McCulley, is drafted from Kansas and assigned to the Vietnamese ward of an army hospital somewhere on the China coast of Vietnam. She makes a medication mistake with a patient and scrambles to make things right again, earning the ire of a supervisor. McCulley has nurse friends but she isn't always accepted in officer circles. She is also viewed by most of the enlisted men as a quick fix for their lust. She is very compassionate and understanding off all her patients - the trademark of a great nurse - but finds herself being especially kind toward the Vietnamese civilians under her care. One of those civilians is a rural medicine man who observes her from his bed. Just before the old man dies, he presses an amulet into McCulley's hand: he has seen what a good healer she can be. Because circumstances have placed her in such close proximity with these people, she naturally develops a heartfelt concern for their plight. She is often considered to be a gook lover". She takes special note of a boy, Ahn, who has lost a leg and clings close to McCulley as a mother figure. She makes close friends with another Vietnamese nurse. She has an affair with a helicopter pilot. Events lead her into attempting to fly the boy to another hospital for better care. The chopper crashes and she is left alone in the jungle with the boy and another wandering American soldier, William Johnson. It is here that her ordeal really begins. The Healer's war is in many respects a nurse-in-combat novel, but it is so intense and detailed in its portrait of McCulley as a stressed and scared woman in a man's war that it is riveting to behold. She encounters all the terror of the jungle, the Viet Cong, the weather, disease, sick and dying people all around her, that she starts to lose it, like the American grunt, Williams. She befriends a village and discovers that her amulet does indeed have magical powers of healing. She learns about the laying on of hands to the sick and dying. It drains her energy and gives it to the patients, and she draws from others around her. The amulet seems to transfer the compassion of healing from its bearer to the afflicted. But this is not really a sorcery tale. Seen as an icon that represents the sincere purpose of the heart, the amulet is a pathway for channeling the greater power of the strong to the weaker power of the crushed. Because we have such an intimate association with McCulley through the narration, it becomes a full though disturbing encounter. In the end, Kitty McCulley is a greater healer than she would have believed possible, but it comes at such a great price that, back stateside, she no longer has the same power, likely because she has been so badly burned, as many veterans were. Scarborough has drawn on her own Vietnam experience as a war nurse there. This is not a complicated novel to read, but it is a very compelling one.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Clint

    I found this somewhat brutal memoir of an Army Nurse’s experiences in Vietnam with a bit of magical realism baked into the bread a “I can’t put this down read”. Elizabeth Ann Scarborough is a new to me author. This 1988 novel won the Nebula in ‘89 and managed to stay off my radar until it popped up during a flash-sale as a .99 ebook. The premise sucked me in, and I love a good deal, so... Scarborough draws upon her personal experiences as an Army Nurse serving in Vietnam. I’m not sure how much of I found this somewhat brutal memoir of an Army Nurse’s experiences in Vietnam with a bit of magical realism baked into the bread a “I can’t put this down read”. Elizabeth Ann Scarborough is a new to me author. This 1988 novel won the Nebula in ‘89 and managed to stay off my radar until it popped up during a flash-sale as a .99 ebook. The premise sucked me in, and I love a good deal, so... Scarborough draws upon her personal experiences as an Army Nurse serving in Vietnam. I’m not sure how much of Lt. Catherine “Kitty” McCully is fiction and how much is real; however, she came alive for me in the opening chapter of her praying to a god she doesn’t necessarily believe in to save the life of a young Vietnamese girl that Kitty, by accident, had overdosed. The novel is divided into two parts. Part One details Kitty’s up and down experiences in a hospital in Vietnam. Here we see her care not only for GI’s but also for Vietnamese nationals. One of these nationals, a mystical old man named Xe, passes a magical amulet to Kitty that becomes of great importance in Part Two. To give more would require spoilers. Some complain that this is not Fantasy nor Science Fiction, but Magical Realism at most. I concur with this assessment, but it is not a negative for me. This is my kind of fantasy, not the mythopoetic literature of Tolkien and while it is grim, it is not the over-bloated grim-dark of GRR Martin, nor is it as Fantastic as the Magical Realism found in the writings of Neal Gaiman. This book is unique. The only reason I give it 4 Stars vs 5 Stars is Scarborough has an annoying habit in this book of dropping cryptic hints of later plot points. I rolled my eyes at this too often occurring weakness. The Author is mostly known for writing humorous fantasy tales, sometimes partnered with Anne McCaffery. I enjoyed this book, but do not plan on reading her humorous stuff. Fellow Alaskans might be interested to know that she studied at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I add this to my shelf “Fantasy Worth Reading”

  25. 4 out of 5

    Janito Vaqueiro Ferreira Filho

    I would give it 3.5 stars. It's a very interesting description of a person in the middle of the war of Vietnam. The book is divided in two parts. The first part takes place in a hospital that takes care of wounded troops and civilians (both American and from Vietnam). This part is interesting mostly in the descriptions of how the hesitant relationship between Americans and locals is portrayed, with some people (like the protagonist) indifferent to nationality while others would rather leave the l I would give it 3.5 stars. It's a very interesting description of a person in the middle of the war of Vietnam. The book is divided in two parts. The first part takes place in a hospital that takes care of wounded troops and civilians (both American and from Vietnam). This part is interesting mostly in the descriptions of how the hesitant relationship between Americans and locals is portrayed, with some people (like the protagonist) indifferent to nationality while others would rather leave the locals to die. The second part takes place in the jungle, and both offers a perspective of what soldiers faced as well as what villagers suffered when troops (from whichever side) appeared. Along the story, the protagonist also slowly learns to use healing powers given to her through the use of an amulet of a local healer. It brings in the fantasy of the story, and contributes to the plot, but mostly in how she starts to understand people. It's not placed in the foreground of the story, and complements it rather well. The downside of the book is that the pace seems slow. In the beginning, a lot of words are spent "developing the protagonist's lifestyle in Nam", and is interesting at first, but (at least for more) became tiresome after a while. The second part is better in this aspect. In the end, its a very good book. Solid writing, believable characters and a good plot. However, there's something missing to make it a "really good" book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Hilary Bunlert

    I didn't feel like this could really be classified as a fantasy novel. It felt like the one limited fantasy element was being used as a means for the author to make commentary about plot and character. I kept waiting for more to be offered about the source of the magic amulet, the man who gave it to her, how it might have fit into a larger community of healers in this part of the world. I picked up this book hoping to find a fantasy novel that explored some Asian perspectives on spirituality and I didn't feel like this could really be classified as a fantasy novel. It felt like the one limited fantasy element was being used as a means for the author to make commentary about plot and character. I kept waiting for more to be offered about the source of the magic amulet, the man who gave it to her, how it might have fit into a larger community of healers in this part of the world. I picked up this book hoping to find a fantasy novel that explored some Asian perspectives on spirituality and explored some fantasy elements in a style that wasn't all about pre-industrial Europe. I was disappointed. It wasn't a bad book, just not what I was hoping for or looking for based on the descriptions I had read about it.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lasse

    I read this book without knowing anything about the book or the author beforehand. Just after finishing the it I felt that I had missed something - while the narrative was capturing and the characters believable I still thought it was "OK" as a whole. But, what really gave me goosebumps though was when I read the author's background for it. The lens she chose to project her personal experiences through really made me change my overall perception, to where I think the end result is really fascinat I read this book without knowing anything about the book or the author beforehand. Just after finishing the it I felt that I had missed something - while the narrative was capturing and the characters believable I still thought it was "OK" as a whole. But, what really gave me goosebumps though was when I read the author's background for it. The lens she chose to project her personal experiences through really made me change my overall perception, to where I think the end result is really fascinating. I'm also wondering what other books there are that are written the same way.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Enoch Root

    A gripping read that offers a view into the horrors of the Vietnam era, as told by a young & idealistic nurse. There is a fantastical, supernatural element in the story, but neither the protagonist nor we as readers are ever told how it works. The lack of knowledge makes this a very nice literary device. Together with the rather open ending, this is an emotionally draining book. However, the writing is not superb and some sections do seem to drag on a bit (at least for me). If you can stomach th A gripping read that offers a view into the horrors of the Vietnam era, as told by a young & idealistic nurse. There is a fantastical, supernatural element in the story, but neither the protagonist nor we as readers are ever told how it works. The lack of knowledge makes this a very nice literary device. Together with the rather open ending, this is an emotionally draining book. However, the writing is not superb and some sections do seem to drag on a bit (at least for me). If you can stomach this and the rather graphical descriptions of the war, you should definitely give it a read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Susan Swiderski

    As any book about war should be, many parts of this book are absolutely heart-wrenching. Some of the story rings very true, based on the author's time in Vietnam as an Army nurse, and part of the story is pure fantasy, regarding the special powers of healing and understanding bestowed by an old Vietnamese man's amulet. Ms. Scarborough does an outstanding job highlighting both the senseless waste and horrors of war, as well as the shared basic humanity of all combatants and the hapless innocents As any book about war should be, many parts of this book are absolutely heart-wrenching. Some of the story rings very true, based on the author's time in Vietnam as an Army nurse, and part of the story is pure fantasy, regarding the special powers of healing and understanding bestowed by an old Vietnamese man's amulet. Ms. Scarborough does an outstanding job highlighting both the senseless waste and horrors of war, as well as the shared basic humanity of all combatants and the hapless innocents caught in the middle.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    This is a sensitive, thoughtful account of an American nurse's time in Vietnam. The author focuses more on the Vietnamese experience of the war than the American experience, which is rare in an American-authored war novel. However, this book has two serious problems. 1) Scarborough doesn't do enough with the amulet, which is the one fantastic element in the book. The idea of a magical empathy device is really cool, especially coupled with a protagonist who's a medical professional, but the amule This is a sensitive, thoughtful account of an American nurse's time in Vietnam. The author focuses more on the Vietnamese experience of the war than the American experience, which is rare in an American-authored war novel. However, this book has two serious problems. 1) Scarborough doesn't do enough with the amulet, which is the one fantastic element in the book. The idea of a magical empathy device is really cool, especially coupled with a protagonist who's a medical professional, but the amulet feels mostly optional to the story. The book could have been rewritten without the amulet and the plot would be very similar. As a result, The Healer's War is one of the least science-fictional or fantastic novels ever to win a Nebula. Joe Haldeman did more interesting things with a similar premise in Forever Peace. 2) The book is extremely tedious to read. The first 100 pages are just the protagonist doing her day job. The plot doesn't start until the book is halfway over, and even then I never really got into it.

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