Operation Wandering Soul Essay - Critical Essays

Richard Powers

Operation Wandering Soul

Richard Kraft is a surgical resident doing a rotation on achildren’s ward of a large hospital near Los Angeles. Spent to thepoint of hallucination by the long hours and the horrific aspectsof his work, his only solace is found in Linda Espera, aphysiotherapist who works with the children on his ward.

The children include Joy, a Southeast Asian refugee whosecancerous leg Kraft finally must amputate; Nicolino, a sexuallyprecocious pubescent whose wildfire progeria makes him age a decadea month; Chuck, an adolescent with no face; Tony the Tuff, anadolescent whose ear has been cut off and must be reconstructed;Ben, a young double amputee; and similar inmates.

Powers’ characters and technique awaken memories of Henry James’THE TURN OF THE SCREW (1898) or William Golding’s LORD OF THE FLIES(1954); his choice of microcosm stirs recollections of ThomasMann’s DER ZAUBERBERG (THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN, 1924). Nothing aboutthis book, however, is derivative. It is unerringly fresh in itslanguage, original in its structure, unique in itspresentation.

As in his earlier novels, THREE FARMERS ON THEIR WAY TO DANCE(1985), PRISONER’S DILEMMA (1988), and THE GOLD BUG VARIATIONS(1991), Powers uses historical/philosophical interchapters torelate his story thematically to a broad span of relevant socialand political history. Powers’ interchapters focus, among othertopics, on the children’s army of the Crusades, the Pied Piper ofHamelin, the evacuation of children from London to Canterburyduring World War II, and Peter Pan.

This is Powers’ first attempt to unfold his story out of themouths of babes. The result is an honesty of expression thatcannot be achieved in any book whose cast of major characters islargely adult. Adults dissemble; children speak forthrightly.

Sources for Further Study

Boston Globe. July 18, 1993, p. B3.

Chicago Tribune. May 23, 1993, XIV, p.1.

Choice. XXXI, September, 1993, p.122.

Library Journal. CXVIII, May 1, 1993, p.117.

Los Angeles Times. August 23, 1993, p. E2.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, July 18, 1993, p.19.

Publishers Weekly. CCXL, April 5, 1993, p.63.

The Review of Contemporary Fiction. XIII, Fall, 1993, p.208.

Time. CXLII, July 19, 1993, p.62.

The Wall Street Journal. July 13, 1993, p. A14.

The Washington Post Book World. XXIII, June 13, 1993, p.2.