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The Healer's War (1988)

by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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429841,106 (3.65)32
Winner of the Nebula Award: "A brutal and beautiful book" that follows the surreal, fantastical journey of a Vietnam War nurse (Minneapolis Star-Tribune). A literary departure for acclaimed fantasy author Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, The Healer's War draws on her personal experience as an army nurse in Da Nang to create a classic novel of the Vietnam War, enriched 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 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--as McCulley struggles to find herself and a way to survive through the madness and destruction.  … (more)
  1. 00
    The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (LamontCranston)
    LamontCranston: The Forever War was inspired by Haldemans experiences in Vietnam, Scarborough writes about her experiences in Vietnam directly.
  2. 00
    The Drylands by Mary Rosenblum (infiniteletters)

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» See also 32 mentions

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From 1988, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough’s Nebula Award-winning The Healer’s War is less fantasy than most of her work, but there are some elements, chiefly an amulet that allows its wearer to see auras. Set in Vietnam, the protagonist is Army nurse Kitty McCulley is stationed at a China Beach-like base camp where she cares for both American soldiers and Vietnamese civilians. What makes this interesting is, in many ways, the same things that made China Beach so interesting: the reality of life in wartime, even behind the lines; the incidence of PTSD; the lack of moral clarity in conflict. This is an excellent novel of the Vietnam war with only minor elements of fantasy.

Reviewed on LIt/Rant: www.litrant.tumblr.com ( )
1 vote KelMunger | Aug 11, 2014 |
The narrator was an army nurse in Vietnam. She was given a magical amulet by an old Vietnamese man, a patient in her hospital. The amulet allows her to see people's auras, and facilitates healing.

This book won the Nebula for best novel in 1989. This is an excellent example of the difference between the Nebula and the Hugo. This book wasn't even nominated for the Hugo. The author had already published several fantasy and SF novels, so this book was considered F&SF even though it hardly is, really.
1 vote Foretopman | Dec 13, 2013 |
It would be OK as purely a novel about the experiences of a military nurse in the Vietnam War but it was advertised as SF and won a Nebula so I was expecting more than just some tacked-on "magic aura" nonsense. Having said that, the military nursing story is quite interesting. ( )
  SChant | Sep 20, 2013 |
Substance: Gritty realism with paranormal happenings. Based on author's experiences as a nurse in Vietnam. Valuable for her personal insights. Minimal (but standard) political references. Only nominally SF, because of the magic amulet; more accurately fantasy; not really either, but a biographical-fictional memoir.
Style: First-person narrative, mostly well done. Marred by a few foreshadowings more appropriate to Gothic romances, and not needed.
p. 76: the cheat of Vietnam: "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 th baby girls were promised that someday their princes would come. Then along came the g-d- 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, ... Where the hell did that leave me and all the other women?"
p. 77: war folklore passed around in hospital units: "I realized that some of those stories were nothing more than folktales the guys told one another to keep their courage up ..."
p. 108: dehumanization of soldiers (or letting them be themselves?), in re an 11-year-old girl raped by Marines: "Of course, I knew the enemy did horrible things to our people and to their own,. But they were the enemy. They weren't supposed to be civilized. I'd grown up with men like these, and they were supposed to know better. I despised any kind of training that taught them to be less than human."
(personal: my opposition to the war in 1969-70 stemmed from the perception, via the news, that US soldiers were being led to do things no man should be made to do; I bought into the propaganda that US soldiers in WW1 & 2 were preternaturally virtuous - even H. Nibley debunked that one - although the US Military as a whole is the most benign in history, after the Civil War, and are now taught to be effective without being vicious - when done right.)
p. 151: the new doctor who treats only American patients, not Vietnamese, even the allied ones; is this a more rational viewpoint? Kitty is utterly opposed to it.
(what would have happened in Vietnam if US had not intervened?)
p. 247: this war "is all so dumb"; war is hell; therefore, hell is dumb.
p. 262: demonizing your own people: child forced to walk through mines becomes a new recruit to VC, even though many of his community were killed.

p. 266: Colonel Dinh, while explaining why he didn't kill Kitty, after massacring villagers suspected of US collaboration:
"Live is not meant to return to a dead limb, and now that it does, it burns with the fires of hell."
p. 267: Kitty: "These people were assuming that I did the things I did because I was who I was, that i was making the amulet do what it did, instead of simply discovering what it would do as I went along....they thought I was sharing my power, not borrowing theirs."
p. 299: about helping yourself because no one else will (taking herself to Disneyland)
p. 303: finding meaning in life by helping others (the boat people as refugees in America). ( )
  librisissimo | Jan 12, 2011 |
The Healer's War won the Nebula Award for best novel in 1989 which is a little surprising since it has only the barest fantasy element: an amulet that allows the wearer to see auras. It's really a Vietnam War novel from the woman's perspective. It follows Lt. Kitty McCully an army nurse at the hospital in Da Nang, as she's lost in the jungle, and when she gets home. Kitty treats each person she cares for as a person but comes to realize that because Americans can't tell which Vietnamese is the enemy, sometimes they hated all of them. She tries to keep her humanity during wartime, and it's almost impossible to do. Toward the end of the novel Kitty just wishes she could be home, and she realizes the Vietnamese are home and have no where to feel safe. While reading, I couldn't help thinking of the current mid east wars and how, even if the fighters come home physically intact, their humanity has to be impacted in devastating ways. ( )
2 vote Citizenjoyce | Oct 10, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elizabeth Ann Scarboroughprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bralds, BraldtCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This book is specifically for Lou Aronica, who asked the right questions. It is also for my fellow Vietnam veterans, living and dead, male and female, military, civilian and pacifist, American, South Vietnamese, North Vietnamese, Australian, Dutch, Laotian, Cambodian, Montagnard, Korean, and Chinese. And for our children, in hopes of arming them with hard questions to ask leaders selling cheap glory.
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Prologue: The nightmares have lost some of their power by now.
Chapter 1: I didn't know old Xe was a magician the night I began to be aware of his powers.
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