SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE by John Rolfe Gardiner


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By Gardiner (In the Heart of the Whole World, 1988, etc.), a complex, often startling tale about the nature of loyalty (to family, to the state, to an ideal) and on medicine's struggle to master disease. In France, at the end of WWI, Major William Lloyd, a bright, energetic, progressive doctor, struggles to run a hospital for Allied wounded. The supply officer, however, is blithely corrupt, siphoning off money and the best food for himself and his cronies. Lloyd finds an unlikely ally in a taciturn French nurse, Jeanne, who has remarkable skill at tending men and a shrewd eye for diagnosing the many ills set in motion by wounds or disease. Gradually, Lloyd discovers that she is, in fact, an extraordinarily gifted, and obsessed, medical researcher who has worked for Louis Pasteur and has created serums that may actually control the infections raging among the wounded. Lloyd finds himself falling in love with Jeanne, and matters grow more complex when his eldest son, William, is drafted. An opponent of the war, son William runs afoul of authority when he's shipped off to Europe. Arrested for his outspoken pacifism, he falls ill in a French prison and ends up in his father's hospital, close to death. One of Jeanne's serums might save him, but can Lloyd bring himself to experiment on his son? And, the war over, can he part from Jeanne? Gardiner's character portraits are penetrating, as is his dissection of William's agony over his divided loyalties. But Jeanne remains an unlikely figure, part mystic, part driven scientist. And William's passion is baffling. Indeed, many of the characters are lucid in their thoughts but enigmatic in their actions, and the ending, unfortunately, seems both abrupt and too relentlessly downbeat, as if the author were trying too hard to assign fortunes and fates. Yet the portrait of wartime France is convincing, and Gardiner's meditations on the obligations of medicine and on the nature of familial love remain original and moving.

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 1999
ISBN: ---
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Knopf