________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 10 . . . . January 21, 2005


The Mind of Norman Bethune.

Roderick Stewart.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2002.
230 pp., pbk., $27.95.
ISBN 1-55041-601-4.

Subject Headings:
Bethune, Norman, 1890-1939.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Thomas F. Chambers.

***½ /4


During this time he assumed a more prominent role at international medical conferences through his cogent and often passionate arguments in favour of new approaches to tubercular problems. In 1935 he was elected to the Executive Council of the American Association of Thoracic Surgeons.

Ironically, perhaps, he was held in much higher esteem by is colleagues in the United States and other parts of Canada, than by those in Quebec. Every doctor in Montreal knew of Norman Bethune; no one was more controversial in the medical community. One popular view was that he was too willing to criticize, too anxious to attack time-tested procedures. He was impatient and unable to accept gradual progress. His schemes were grandiose, impractical, even crack-brained. He was impolite, arrogant and showy. In short, to some, he was an embarrassment to his profession.


Since much of The Mind of Norman Bethune is a collection of Bethune's own writings, it seems only fit to include a portion of them in this review.

I am fairly well. My right ear has gone completely deaf for 3 months. My teeth need a lot of attention and my glasses are giving me trouble. Outside of these minor things and being rather thin, I'm OK.

I have no clothes. My civilian clothes were lost from Hong Kong on the R.R. to Hankou in March last year. Will you please have the China Aid Council send enough money to get me clothes. Pay passage to America, pay dentists and doctors in Hong Kong? Perhaps they should send about $1000 to the China Defence Committee in Hong Kong.

I am bringing back all the negatives I have. I only wished I had had a movie. I cabled several from Beiping to New York but could get no reply.

With the warmest comradely greetings, both to yourself and all comrades.

     Roderick Stewart clearly enjoys researching and writing about Norman Bethune. In addition to this book, he wrote Bethune and Norman Bethune, a book for young readers. This is the second edition of The Mind of Norman Bethune; the original was published in 1977. It is a factual and accurate account of Bethune’s life from his birth in Gravenhurst, Ontario, in 1890, until his death in China in 1939, but there are few details about his early years. There are also some interesting details about his ancestors. The volume is intended to be used for recreational purposes and will be of interest to readers in a broad age range. Readers in Grade 9 should have few problems with Stewart's style, but older readers will enjoy the book as well because Bethune's life was so unusual.

     Since Bethune practiced medicine in Spain during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and in China with the communists as they fought the Japanese invader, the book provides some interesting details about these conflicts. Until recently, because Bethune became a communist, little attention in Canada was paid to his role in these struggles. Readers may be surprised at the primitive medical facilities Bethune had to work with. That he saved the lives of many badly hurt soldiers, who would surely have died otherwise, helps to explain the great regard with which his memory is held in China. He was also very innovative with his scarce resources, a quality the communists appreciated.

     While Stewart writes in a rich, polished prose, in this book he lets Bethune tell most of his own story. Much of the written portion of the text is taken from Bethune's correspondence. This gives a personal glimpse not often seen in biographies. It allows readers to see what Bethune was thinking and the problems he faced and to form their own opinions of this complex individual. Since Bethune speaks for himself, much of the book is a primary source, ideal for anyone interested in researching his life.

     There are a great many black and white photographs illustrating The Mind of Norman Bethune. Functional, they are spread throughout the book and cover all aspects of Bethune's life. Also included are pages from a catalogue of medical supplies showing instruments designed by Bethune. These help to show just how creative a doctor he was. An unusual feature is the inclusion of part of a mural, The T.B.'s Progress which Bethune painted. It was done on wrapping paper and hung on the walls of a cottage at the sanitarium where he was treated for tuberculosis. There is an index as well.

Highly Recommended.

Thomas F. Chambers is a retired college teacher who lives in North Bay, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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