Thursday, April 5, 2012

Book Review: Tragedy in Paradise

A Book You Can Buy From Me

Book Title: Tragedy in Paradise

Author: Charles Weldon

Publisher: Asia Books

Date: 1999

Length: 284 pages

ISBN: 9748237389

Illustrations: black and white photo inserts

Quote: " an anecdotal description of some of the events that occurred during the eleven years from June 1963 to July 1974 when I lived and worked in the kingdom of Laos."

I can't believe that used copies of this obscure memoir start at $36 on Amazon. It's valuable anecdotal history. I suppose that explains it. The book contains moments of high adventure and an occasional chuckle, but it wouldn't have been likely to win a Pulitzer Prize.

It's an illustrated story about a long-gone place and time. Charles Weldon, a doctor in his early forties, and his wife Pat, also a doctor, wanted to do humanitarian work overseas and were offered posts in Laos, where a jungle war was raging. People who became historic figures, including the royal family, were their close friends--and enemies. One day they were handing out antibiotics in a more or less routine way to victims of infectious tropical diseases; the next day they might be patching up soldiers with what appeared to be fatal combat wounds.

The back jacket describes a medical gross-out scene; if you can stand it, you can stand the rest of the book--"Two loops of intestine were protruding from a long, gaping wound in his abdomen. To my amazement, he was still conscious." Doctors have to write about this kind of thing, I suppose.

In the 1920s, his formative years, Charles Weldon might have passed for a feminist, but his observations on women and their status in Laos--even at his hospital--are guaranteed to annoy present-time feminists. Major social changes are sometimes made slowly. Weldon encouraged more access to education for girls by demanding "girls," meaning women of course, as nurses (to support male doctors of course). And he doesn't actually admit to having patronized the houses of prostitution where girls had traditionally been sent, if they wanted to help their poor old parents out financially, but he does recall a conversation in which he tried (without success) to buy some time alone with the madam.

On the other hand he comes across as definitely neither racist nor judgmental about other people's lifestyles, and willing to laugh at his own past mistakes...and oh, the sights that he saw. And he loved every minute of it. Nobody was shooting at him; he liked being able to help the people who had been shot, and he quite regretted the decision to withdraw official representatives of the United States from Southeast Asia.

To buy Tragedy in Paradise from me online, send $40 for the book and $5 for shipping to (Unfortunately it's too late for Weldon to collect $4.50; I suspect he would have put it to good use.) The real-life cost for a clean-smelling, well bound, but mold-exposed copy will be lower.