Book Review: “Healing, Romance, and Revolution: Letters from an American Nurse in 1926 China” by Carolyn & Dennis Buckmaster

This review was written for Healing, Romance, and Revolution: Letters from an American Nurse in 1926 China (Kindle Edition)

I would have liked to have seen an Introduction, which would provide some concise Chinese history for context, as well as more biographical information on Harriet’s life, before and after her trips to China. However…

“Healing, Romance & Revolution” is a delightful collection of letters, written by Seattleite Harriet “Hat” Smith. They were sent to her mother and others during her adventures as a young, single, and very independent nurse in China in the 1920’s. This was Hat’s second long-term stay in Changsha, Hunan Province. She was paid to educate nursing students and care for patients in the hospital, with the Yale-in-China program; a foreign missionary association, based out of Newhaven, Connecticut. Yale-in-China eventually evolved its function and focus from an evangelical mission to medical education, creating a prep school, middle school, and college; and it provided the most advanced Western medical training in China at the time, running a nursing school and hospital, funded mainly through foreign aid.

During this time in history, China was in civil war of varying degrees – the Chinese National political party was the Kuomintang, led by Sun Yat-Sen until his death – and then led by military strong-arm Chiang Kai-Shek before eventually being taken over by the Communist Party. The trickle-down effect on the community and hospital where Smith worked is illustrated in her letters as the Chinese struggled in constant flux to determine what the new character of China would become after each governmental and ideological change. Disruptions by newly-formed unions, worker’s rights demonstrations, military actions, egos or “face”, and the ever-changing demands of students and workers led to conflict with and frustrations for the American and other foreign educators.

Now quite a contrast to the abbreviated current day emails, Twitters, and phone texts, Harriet Smith’s letters are a wonderful example of old-fashioned letter writing: long, descriptive, personal, witty, and of literate merit – in other words, a joy to read. Keeping in touch with friends and relatives half-way around the world, during a time when the boat and mail service wasn’t guaranteed due to weather and war, was an exercise in commitment and patience. Harriet had the forethought to ask that her letters be kept as a running documentary of political and military unrest in China at the time, and so we have this collection today, painstakingly compiled by her grand-neice, Carolyn Buckmaster and Carolyn’s husband, Dennis. Even without any prior knowledge of Chinese history or medicine, the reader will enjoy her letters, for the mere pleasure of her droll wit, 1920’s style hipster lingo, and positive, worldly outlook on life.


RUN, don’t walk, to see “The Wizard of Oz” in 3-D IMAX

If you are a classic movie buff, just the thought of “The Wizard of Oz” being released once again to be viewed ON THE BIG SCREEN(!!!!) for its 75th anniversary should excite you no end.  To top that off, it’s playing in 3-D and IMAX, but only for a very short run – I’ve heard differing stories that it will be in theatres one month or just one week, and we’re already a few days into the release.  So, go see it NOW!

If you are anything like me, you’ve probably seen “The Wizard of Oz” at least fifty times, and you can probably recite the script word-for-word, at least most of the time.  Every time you view it, you catch another line that stands out as especially clever.  This time for me, it was during the Cowardly Lion’s solo on Courage after arriving at the Emerald City; getting a new hairdo, and plumping up his self-esteem: “What makes the Hottentots so hot?  What puts the Ape in Apricot!?  Courage.”  Priceless. 

“The Wizard of Oz” was made in 1939 – an amazing year.  If you hadn’t been born yet… Oz was the first movie ever made in Technicolor; it lost the Best Picture Oscar to “Gone with the Wind”; FDR had established Thanksgiving a national holiday to be celebrated evermore on the fourth Thursday in November; my parents were 2 and 3 years old; my Grandfather set sail with Admiral Byrd to the South Pole as a radioman aboard the USS Bear; and World War II began in Europe.  For those of you very young – there was a time before Cable, when, if you lived in a big enough town, you had THREE channels – imagine that!  ABC, NBC, and CBS.  If you were really lucky, you had a PBS station, and maybe a local independent station.  When I first saw “The Wizard of Oz” as a child in the late 1960s, it was aired on network television, usually once a year, around the holidays.  It was an EVENT.  Something to look forward to with anticipation and glee for the whole family, but especially the kids.  We gathered around the TV in our PJs, cross-legged on the floor, as close to the TV as our parents would allow. I remember the scary parts mostly, which aren’t quite so scary after the 50th viewing, but they still have a punch.  The storm as the twister was approaching – that giant, undulating, wild cyclone of impending doom!  Miss Gulch, who seems to turn into a broom-riding wicked witch, seen by Dorothy through her bedroom window while up in the cyclone.  The way the Wicked Witch of the East’s feet curl up and shrink under the house when her Ruby Slippers were removed.  Shudder!  Cringe!   I still get goose-bumps.  Did I mention that the TVs in most homes in the late 1960s to early 1970s were still black-and-white?  Since I wasn’t around to see the film in the theatres, can you imagine the wonder and excitement I felt when we finally got a COLOR TV (I think I was in Junior High) and watched “The Wizard of Oz” in TECHNICOLOR!? 

That astonishment at seeing the transition after Dorothy travels via cyclone from black-and-white Kansas to a vivid and colorful Munchkin Land was MIND-BLOWING!  Not to mention seeing the “horse of a different color you’ve heard tell about” –  and FINALLY understanding that line!  (The horse “changed” colors – White, Red, Yellow, and Purple – four different horses were used in the picture, colored with gelatin).  Now here we are in 2013, with this beloved classic in 3-D.  I have to admit that until today, I had never seen a movie in 3-D.  I’d heard it was just a schlocky effect from the 1950s and likely to cause migraines with those funny glasses you have to wear.  Well – I felt today much like I felt when I first saw the film in Color.  I was astonished.  Tears came to my eyes.  “Oh Joy!  Rapture!”  It was great.  The depth of field, the backdrops, the DETAIL that can now be seen on that giant theatre screen AND in 3-D.  It was truly remarkable – I am a convert.  It was like seeing the picture all over again for the first time.  Totally worth the $18.50.  Do yourselves a favor and go enjoy seeing it again.  Maybe even bring your kids.