The Communist's Daughter
By Dennis Bock
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9781400044627, 304pp.)
Publication Date: February 13, 2007
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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From the acclaimed author of The Ash Garden—“an illuminating searchlight on the terra incognita where the personal and the political intersect” (Newsday)—an even more ambitious novel that follows a doctor from the trenches of the Great War into subsequent conflicts whose horrors would soon envelop the world.
The historical Norman Bethune—legendary in both his native Canada and China—was a visionary whose dedication touched millions, and as the narrator of this novel he springs to vivid life even as he approaches its end. Rebelling in childhood against his father’s religion, he finds a calling himself, saving lives on the battlefield, only after nearly losing his own in the trenches in France. In Republican Spain he fulfills his idealism, yet before long politics destroy a romance, compromise his achievement, and drive him to seek refuge and purpose in the vast expanse of China. Here, in the service of the man eventually known as Mao Zedong, Bethune contends with Nationalist and Japanese enemies and begins this account of failed loves, cherished beliefs, discoveries, and reversals for the only person who still makes a future seem possible: the daughter he has never seen.
Storytelling at its best—passionate, wrenching, compelling—about a complex, contradictory man caught in the relentless sweep of history.
Dennis Bock lives with his wife and their two sons in Ontario. His novel The Ash Garden was published in nine countries and received the Canada-Japan Literary Award in 2002.
"[In] this first-person narrative, told through correspondence that is tender, honest and dramatic in what it reveals . . . Dennis Bock paints a broad, yet vivid account of a man's life on the battlefield, and illuminates the personal and political ideals amid the confusion of war."
--Lisa Palmer, The Providence Journal
"A unique and affecting perspective on [a] complex and contradictory historical figure."
--Steven Hayward, The Plain Dealer
"[Bock] writes exquisitely and convincingly."
--Frank Reiss, Atlanta Journal Constitution
"The pleasure of this excellently crafted novel is its mastery of timing and voice. Its interest lies in its reexamination in fiction of that era of leftist idealism that spans the period between the two world wars . . . Bock inevitably invokes the legacy of Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos, [but] strangely, or maybe not that strangely, [he] evokes the bravery and idealism of that time with a sharpness and perspective lacking in many novels written then."
--David Walton, Louisville Courier-Journal
"Bock's descriptions of war's detritus--the wounded, the dying, the starving, the haunted--recall Goya's darkest visions, while the love story at the novel's core materializes as just another deeply affecting battlefield casualty."
--Anna Mundow, Boston Globe
"After imaginatively considering the freighted legacy of Hiroshima in The Ash Garden, Bock continues his profound inquiry into the morass of war in a beautifully measured yet deeply felt portrayal of a battlefield surgeon . . . Reminiscent of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead in gravitas and lyricism, Bock's novel about a man who means to do good in the world, steadfastly faces death, and reveres the planet's beauty is a study in sorrow, courage, and mystery."
--Donna Seaman, Booklist, starred review
"Bock continues his profound inquiry into the morass of war in a beautifully measured yet deeply felt portrayal of a battlefield surgeon . . . Reminiscent of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead in gravitas and lyricism, Bock's novel about a man who means to do good in the world, steadfastly faces death, and reveres the planet's beauty is a study in sorrow, courage, and mystery. As Bock's hero unflinchingly parses our insistence on war and our caring more about ideas than life, he also, even amid horror, celebrates 'the rapturous wonder of being alive.'"
--Donna Seaman, Booklist, starred review
"Powerful and affecting fiction . . . Bock's vivid first-person narrative exquisitely captures the malice of war."
"[In this] fictionalized account of the life of Norman Bethune, the Canadian war physician . . . Bock's masterful narration gives a sense of the urgency of [a] world-changing moment, and of the exhilaration of being a player on a world stage, and from this emerges an unexpected portrait of Bethune . . . A slow, sure novel that burns away the glamor of war."
Reviews from Canada for Dennis Bock's The Communist's Daughter:
"Bock is a fine writer with a gift for making the roiling chaos of war come alive. Surely Bethune is the most challenging of subjects, a man who made a great contribution with an almost Machiavellian ruthlessness. Bock tackles him bravely."
"A rich re-envisioning of the life of Dr. Norman Bethune, The Communist's Daughter is another triumph . . . This is a portrait of a flawed and complicated man, an odd mixture of narcissism and generosity [that] is vivid and haunting." --Now (Toronto)
"A hard-nosed, battled-scarred and penetrating portrait of a war-weary idealist who is compelled to fight the good fight based on unbending ideals and dreams. Bock has created a Bethune story like none other, a compelling novel about love, betrayal and war."
"A frank fictional biography about chance and fate, betrayal and forgiveness . . . [The Communist's Daughter] rewards in immediacy and intimacy, for we are right inside Bethune's head, where the action is, the hubris is . . . Bock's supple, convincing prose dissects what made the great enigmatic doctor tick."
--Mark Anthony Jarman, Toronto Globe and Mail