Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 515
Operation Wandering Soul has more memorable characters than any of Powers's previous books. Richard Kraft, loosely modeled on Powers's brother, a physician, undergoes the most significant transformation in the novel. His name, German for "power," is a play of words on the author's family name but also relates ironically to...
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Operation Wandering Soul has more memorable characters than any of Powers's previous books. Richard Kraft, loosely modeled on Powers's brother, a physician, undergoes the most significant transformation in the novel. His name, German for "power," is a play of words on the author's family name but also relates ironically to the theme of powerlessness that pervades much of the novel.
Linda Espera does not permit herself to fear — and thereby avoid — an emotional involvement with her patients that might completely undo her. She realizes that the children with whom she works need love and, despite the hazards of proffering it to children who may soon die, Linda gives unstintingly of herself. She is, of course, the catalyst in Richard Kraft's change of demeanor as the novel progresses.
The children in the ward are particularly touching, Tony the Tuff has had an ear lopped off in a street fight, but he is only surface tough. Underneath he is a frightened child. Ben, a double amputee, faces a bleak future, but Linda gives him hope and through the interaction that she orchestrates with the other children on the ward, she helps him relate to something.
Nicolino suffers from a progressive disease that presents one of medicine's greatest ironies. Progeria accelerates the aging process so that its victims become old while still young. Living his life in fast forward, Nicolino will be dead in his teens. He is, nevertheless, an important motive force in Linda Espera's attempt to give her patients something to look forward to.
Nicolino is essentially the perpetrator and organizer of the scheme to dramatize one of the stories Linda has told them. Nicolino wants these sick children to venture outside the hospital and present dramatizations; he works assiduously to accomplish this. Despite his serious illness, Nicolino, whose sexual development has been heightened by his disease, provides some of the best humor in a book whose dark subject requires such comic relief as its author can provide.
Perhaps the most touching and memorable character in Operation Wandering Soul is Joy Stepaneevong, a twelve-year-old refugee from Southeast Asia, who is hospitalized for a growth above her ankle. Joy is alone in the hospital. Her mother is dead; her father, an illegal alien, is a genuinely caring parent who cannot expose himself to the possibility of detection and deportation by coming to visit the daughter he loves. Joy adores Richard Kraft, who, when Joy's growth proves to be malignant, has no alternative except to amputate her leg.
Kraft, devastated by this realization, is consoled essentially by Joy, who has utter faith in him and who faces the reality of losing a leg with considerable resignation. Kraft is forced to become involved in Joy's family situation: He cannot operate without the signed permission of a parent or guardian.
Kraft becomes aware that Mr. Stepaneevong steals into the hospital at night for clandestine visits to his daughter. He lies in wait for him one night and has great difficulty convincing the frightened man that all he needs is a signature. He will not turn the alien in to immigration.