Saturday, June 8, 2019

Jungle Doctor

By Vivian Stuart ©1961
Cover illustration by Jack Harman

Anton Kramer, a man of fierce devotion where his work as a surgeon was concerned, could never surrender to an uncompromising love like Deborah's. Had Deborah's experience of men been wider she must have known this,  but guilelessly she consented to the suggestion that she should join him as his bride in Indonesia when her three years' training as a nurse was completed. But Deborah came to learn that much can happen in three years. In three years a man can build a new world for himself, can make a new circle of friends and can learn to exchange confidences with a beautiful Oriental more intimate than ever he had shared with the woman he had promised to marry. When Deborah arrived to join Anton all these things were clear to her. Anton still loved her—of that she was certain—but was the part in his life that he offered her big enough, important enough? And even more significant, after meeting the young flyer, Hank Curtis, did she still want that part?


“Tarapang had been rent by strife and terrorists had burned and ravaged and killed in the name of Freedom, tearing down the civilization which the white men had brought, for no other reason than because the white man had brought it.”

“A post at the County Hospital, when she had finished her training, had been the height of her ambitions with, perhaps, later on, marriage to one or other of the pleasant ordinary young men she knew and with whom, hitherto, she had been content to spend her time.”

“ ‘You gave your word to Deb,’ Deb’s mother had reminded him. ‘Surely you aren’t going to break your promise to her for the sake of a few heathen natives?’ ”

“Love is giving, not taking, Miss Fane—it is making sacrifices for the man you love, devoting your life to him, humbling yourself—”

Deborah Fane has just graduated from nursing school, and as we meet her she is jetting off to Indonesia to meet up with Dr. Anton Kramer, whom she met at school in England and fell in love with. They’d become engaged before he left to go to “his own country since boyhood,” where “he had spent the war years, first as a Japanese prisoner and later as leader of the guerilla force which had opposed the conquerors.” They’ve been maintaining a ferocious daily letter-writing relationship for the past three years, but have not seen each other in that time, so anyone with a brain is going to predict trouble for the happy couple. Indeed, in recent months, his correspondence has ceased due to a revolution that has occurred on the island of Tarapang, where Anton is working. Undeterred by the wholly unstable situation, Deborah has hopped a jet to Indonesia and once there hired a private plane, piloted by cowboy American Hank Curtis, to get her the rest of the way to the island, because “her eagerness to tend and serve its primitive and misguided people was second only to her longing to tend and serve Anton himself.” If you can stand it.

Anton is unaware of her impending arrival, since mail service has been unacceptably poor during the hostilities. Hank is rightfully concerned that Deborah is a hopelessly naïve babe in the woods with an obsessive messiah complex regarding her fiancé, who is rumored to have led the uprising on the island. “The Anton she had known and loved could not possibly be the leader of a violent revolt! It was unthinkable,” even though she knows he had been one before med school. But since she’s the cutest white gal he’s seen in years, Hank signs on to the mission and hangs out with the military pilots to find out their timetable for bombing the island, so he can get the jump on them early the next morning while they’re sleeping off their hangovers. He lands Deborah on Tarapang, but not before getting shot at by another plane and taking a bullet to a convenient shoulder (it’s never to the head, is it?), from which he is completely recovered (or at least it’s never mentioned again) after five pages.

Landing on the island, Deborah is met by her true love and a gang of local soldiers driving an armed vehicle. Anton seems happy to see her—but his associate, the vixen Dr. Liang Hosien, is less pleased to encounter a rival. Anton is acting a little strangely, though, one minute completely ignoring Deborah and the next kissing her passionately. She has to work hard to convince Anton that he should abandon the island and return to the mainland with her so they can be married and live happily ever after. “Ever since I got here, I have been afraid. Of—of something. It sounds stupid but I don’t even know of what I am afraid,” she tells Anton. Could it be the armed soldiers that drive Anton around? The plane that shot at her and Hank en route to the island? The government bombers on their way to annihilate Tarapang? Nah, “it is just some sort of blind instinct, I think. I—I don’t know.”

It becomes increasingly clear to even dopey Deborah that Anton is playing a military role in the uprising, and his agreement to leave the island stems from his belief that his ragtag band of guerillas is losing the war and that they will surrender peaceably once their leader has abandoned them. Despite his current dubious second job, Deborah is nonetheless standing by her man, even though “Anton had changed. She could no longer pretend, even to herself, that he had not.” Meanwhile, Hank works overtime flirting and kissing Deborah to convince her to leave the increasingly unhinged Anton. Anton rightfully becomes jealous of Hank, who counters, “He should stick around and keep an eye on you, if he wants me to stop making passes at you, shouldn’t he now?” But Deborah, after kissing Hank twice, feels that Anton’s jealousy is completely unfounded: Hank “had risked his life to get her here, was risking it now and … he had kissed her. True, it had been nothing more than a brotherly gesture, his lips had merely brushed hers in farewell. They were confronting a shared danger and he had been about to leave her. It had meant no more than that—Hank was an American and that was the American way, casual, light hearted, a kiss instead of a compliment.” Even when Anton walks in as she is sobbing in Hank’s manly arms, Deborah seems completely oblivious: When Anton shouts, “‘Do you deny now that you’ve let Curtis make love to you behind my back? Do you?’ ‘Yes! It isn’t true, Anton!’ Deb protested, the color rushing to her cheeks.” Clearly the word “protested” should here be read as “lied.”

As it happens, a diplomat shows up on the island to negotiate peace and is shot and held captive by the guerillas. To prevent the all-out war that would ensue, Hank sneaks off to try to rescue the diplomat and is captured himself. Deborah is then forced to sneak out to Hank’s plane and use the radio to call the mainland to stop the impending bombing of the island. The resulting delay yields enough to get Hank and the diplomat rescued and to cool off the crisis.

Anton negotiates himself into the role of official leader of the island, and Deborah finally realizes “the Anton she had known and loved in England had not been the real Anton—perhaps he had existed only in her imagination.” But Hank is so much more! So in the end, three action-packed days after her arrival, she is leaving Tarapang to get married—but not to Anton, after she realizes that she’d never loved Anton the way she loves Hank, of course: “Hank, who had kissed her lightly and laughingly and had aroused in her emotions she hadn’t known she possessed, emotions she hadn’t felt for Anton, although she had believed that she loved him for nearly three years.”

This book technically counts as a nurse novel since Deborah is a full-fledged RN, but all she really does in this book in that capacity is dress Hank’s bullet wound and count hospital supplies. It’s a pretty adventurous story, though the politics are a little hard to follow (in full disclosure, I may not have accurately represented the plot here), and Deborah is a near-total moron, ignorant of basic human behavior and swinging from a years-long devotion to a man she only writes letters to, to marriage to a man she’s known for only three days. It’s an unusual VNRN and one worth reading in that respect, but not the best book I’ve ever read.

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