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Publisher's Summary

Although perhaps best-known for her lightly humorous fantasies and for her collaborations with Anne McCaffrey on the Petaybee series and the Acorna series, Elizabeth Anne Scarborough has also written The Healer's War, a classic novel of the Vietnam War, enriched with a magical, mystical twist, which won the 1989 Nebula Award for Best Novel of 1988. The Minneapolis Star Tribune called it a "brutal and beautiful book". Scarborough herself was a nurse in Vietnam during the war and she draws on her own personal experiences to create the central character, Lt. Kitty McCulley.

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. By the end of the journey, McCulley has found herself and a way to live and survive through the madness and destruction.

©1988 Elizabeth Ann Scarborough (P)2012 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

  • Nebula Award, Best Novel, 1989

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

An importnat book that resonates today

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.

Additionally, the narration of this book was pitch-perfect. I'd love to here more fantasy titles from Robin Miles.

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This book was great

This book was great. I have given it five stars. Wish I could have given it six

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  • Sue
  • Washington State
  • 05-30-18

Holy Cow this was good

Anne Scarborough didn't just write a fantasy novel. She wrote a what should be one of the great American novels. A powerful story with all of the pain and agony of war with characters that will challenge your assumptions, are true to themselves AND the story, and will live in your brain long after you put this book down.

Like the Forever War author Joe Haldeman, Anne draws on her experience in Vietnam to build a story that arcs perfectly and is truly worthy of the Nebula Award, an award given by peers to great work. This book does not appeal to the readers desire to tell familiar and safe stories, this book challenges the reader to come along on the journey.

No spoilers, but beginning, middle and end are all everything you could want, even if you didn't know you wanted it.

As a man, reading the world from a real woman's perspective, I was at times, saddened as I recognized the truth in her words. All men are not stupid boors, but when they are, she cuts them no slack, shows them for what they are and you can feel the humiliation that must have been heaped on women in the war theater.

She speaks truth to power in this book without letting her character do it, the story does it. I am in awe and have just bought another Scarborough book. This one was a pleasure.

1 of 3 people found this review helpful