cover image Barefoot Doctor

Barefoot Doctor

Can Xue, trans. from the Chinese by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping. Yale Univ, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-300-25963-6

Can Xue (I Live in the Slums) offers a complex and illuminating portrait of a group of healers in China. Mrs. Yi is the longtime herbalist in Yun Village, where people “don’t count the passing years.” Her interest in childbirth drew her to her profession, after the death of her own son as a toddler. Her intuitive connection with both herbs and her patients inspires a younger generation of healers. She offers guidance when asked, as the aspirants struggle along their own paths. Gray, Mrs. Yi’s occasional assistant and possible successor, must navigate an on-again, off-again love affair that disrupts his studies. Mia, 28, from nearby Deserted Village, deals with her fear of abandonment while trying to grow an herb garden. And for Angelica to realize her potential as an herbalist, she must decipher the secrets of Blue Village, onetime home of Dr. Lin Baoguang, the father of Chinese herbal medicine. Niulan Mountain is an ever-present resource for the healers, providing herbs, edifying mystical adventures, and encounters with reanimated spirits of those who have died. Though the disjointed narrative can be hard to follow, the author still offers profound insights about what it means to pursue and live a fulfilling life. As with Can Xue’s previous work, this is both demanding and rewarding. (Sept.)