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Richard Powers: Operation Wandering Soul

I am not sure that this is a book that you will enjoy but it is certainly a very fine book, even though it is, at times, a bit harrowing. As in some of his previous books, the main character, in this case Richard Kraft, a pediatric surgeon (and former French horn player) falls apart in the face of an overdemanding reality, often brought about by or, at least, linked to some scientific event. Think of Eddie Hobson in Prisoner’s Dilemma or Stuart Ressler in The Gold Bug Variations. Kraft is burned out as a surgeon. He has seen children suffer so much, not just from their injuries or illnesses but from how they are treated in our world. Meeting Linda Espera (which translates as pretty hope), a child psychologist, he feels that there is someone who can help him. The two work together on helping the children. There are two children that are the focus of our attention. The first is Nicolino who suffers from Hutchinson-Gilford disease, a disease which causes premature aging in children. Nicolino, however, uses his old look to become the dominant child in the ward and he also uses it for economic benefit, in his comic trade sideline. The other child is a Laotian refugee, Joy Stepaneevong, who has a pain in her ankle, which turns out to be a potentially fatal type of bone cancer. Kraft feels very concerned for Joy and tries to help her by introducing her to the standard children’s fantasy world of literature – Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, the Wizard of Oz. Just as Eddie Hobson cannot escape the real word when trying to escape into his fantasy world, Joy and Kraft also have to deal with the real world. Kraft makes a mess of the real world and loses Joy and then loses himself. Yet, while you cannot help admire Powers’ writing skills, you certainly do not feel comfortable reading this book.

Publishing history

First published 1993 by William Morrow