Bamboo Ward

In a savage jungle, among primitive people

By William Wetherall

First posted 11 October 2006
Last updated 15 October 2006

Bamboo Ward
1962 Signet edition

Other nurse novels

Hancock 1947 Doctor Kim
1948 Bantam Books edition

She was more than a nurse to him
Bonham 1965 Army Nurse
1967 Pyramid Books edition

Would her mission cost
her the man she loved?
Field 1966 Vietnam Nurse
1966 Avon Books edition

Natalie was needed
by many men, but she needed
a very special man
in a Green Beret
Roberts 1966 Vietnam Nurse
1966 Ace Books edition

Noah Gordon
Bamboo Ward
New York: Signet Books, 1962
126 pages, paperback (S2169)

The blurbs on the front and back covers and the fly are typical of the romance thriller genre.

Front cover

The taut, realistic story of a UN Medical Mission in Samaya . . . and the doctors and nurses who came to the steaming jungle to batatle ignorance, disease -- and their own thwarted lives.

Back cover

A MAN-KILLING TIGER lurked in the shadows of the jungle awaiting the prey which was too weak to escape its wounded fury. The Russian doctor crouched silently in his tree-platform, guns ready to blast the marauding beast. Below him he heard the sound of soft-footsteps; it was the beautiful, golden- haired American nurse who had entered the danger area unaware, the one women who was worlds apart from the Red Army colonel -- the one woman he deeply loved.

In a fierce jungle battle against disease and disaster, the members of a UN Medical Mission fight their own dangerous deceits and compelling passions.

Front fly

mission in samaya

They came to Samaya, a country ruled by a benevolent native queen, a country whose security was threatened by an international power play, whose jungles were prowled by a terrorizing, man-eating tiger. Each of the visitors had a professional purpose there, and each of them had a driving desire to be fulfilled.

They were:

A young American suregeon who was expert in the anatomy of the heart, but ignorant of its emotions . . .

A lovely young nurse who had vowed to keep a promise to her dead father . . .

A Negro State Department man with an important mission . . .

A middle-aged nurse whose lonely life was bereft of love or hope . . .

A Russian colonel who was first a doctor, then a Communist, and most of all a man in love . . .

A crippled French physician who tried to forget his past as a prisoner in a penal colony . . .

They all had a mission in Samaya. In a savage jungle, among primitive people, they all had a mission of life -- or death.

Nurse and doctor stories

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, nurses and doctors became heroes of their own subgenre of romance fiction. Many authors who wrote medical romance thrillers set at least one of their stories in the Steamy East.

Bamboo Ward included a list of four "Other SIGNET Nurse and Doctor Stories" in print at the time.

Night Ward (Noah Gordon, S2114)
Emergency Nurse (Jane Converse, S2079)
Aloha Nurse (Ethel Hamill, S2022)
Sky Doctor (Shane Douglas, S2139)

National geographies

The members of the American contingent of the UN medical team in Samaya are Dr. Michael Cooper, a heart surgeon, and Beth Sommers and Cecile Leighton, both R.N. surgical nurses. All three are working at Scollay Memorial Hospital in Boston when they are chosen for the mission by chief surgeon Dr. Alexander Weintraub.

Samaya is introduced as an undeveloped country is Asia (page 13). All Beth knows, from old copies of National Geographic, is that it has "Jungles and rice paddies and girls without T shirts driving oxen" (page 17).

The Americans cross the United States and the Pacific in civilian plans. At Laos they join a U.S. Army field hospital travel with it to Karachi in Air Force Flying Boxcars. At Karachi the party board a helicopter, in which Beth is said to be "gazing out the porthole and watching the small countries of Southeast Asia passing below" (page 28).

The geography seems to be as fictional as the names of the Boston hospital and the country. Samaya is described as the site of a former French penal colony, and the French doctor, a former inmate, still treats some local lepers. From this I get the impression that the country is a composite of places like French Guiana in South America and New Caledonia in the Coral Sea, both of which were flung far enough from Paris to qualify as sites of large penal colonies.

Noah Gordon

Noah Gordon (b1926) received degrees in journalism and English literature, then worked as a writer and editor of mostly scientific and medical articles. He began another career, as an editor of psychiatric and medical journals, while writing his first major novel, The Rabbi (1965), in the early 1960s. Most of his fiction has been about Judaism and/or medicine, as suggested by the titles of his other bestsellers.

Early "nursing" novels

Gordon's first novels, though, were two thin paperback nurse adventures called Night Ward (Signet, 1952, 128 pages) and Bamboo Ward (Signet, 1962, 126 pages).

1952 Night Ward
1962 Bamboo Ward
1965 The Rabbi
1969 The Death Committee
1979 The Jerusalem Diamond
1986 The Physician [Cole trilogy 1, 11th century]
1992 Shaman [Cole trilogy 2, 19th century]
1996 Matters of Choice [aka Choices, Cole trilogy 3, present]
2000 The Last Jew

All Gordon says on his website about his first two works is: "I published two paperback novels about nursing, one of which became a back-of-the-book novel in Redbook Magazine" ( My guess is that the Redbook story was Night Ward, which had 9 printings by 1959 and a 10th printing (Signet D3133) sometime later, and at least two Canadian printings.

On the brink of invading Japan

The trip to Samaya is not Dr. Cooper's first trip across the Pacific, for he had been on a Navy torpedo boat during World War II (page 27). Noah Gordon, on his website, states that he wanted to serve in the Navy but wore glasses and was color-blind, and ended up in the U.S. Infantry (

After basic training in Company A of the 26th Infantry Training Battalion at Camp Croft, South Carolina, I was sent to "the repple depple," Replacement Depot #2 at Fort Ord, California. We were given salt water soap and full field packs, and marched to busses while the band played; but instead of carrying us to ships, the busses took us to the Presidio of Monterey. I learned later that we had been destined to join JASCOs (Joint Assault Signal Companies), made up of Infantry trained to give covering fire while men of the Signal Corps set up first communications during the early waves of invasions. The United States was preparing to invade Japan. But suddenly brand-new weapons ("What's an atom bomb?") were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the war was over. I finished my service unheroically as an Army clerk in a boring job in San Francisco, grateful that I had survived, grateful that I had never had to kill a human being.

In some sense, Bamboo Ward is the trip across the Pacific that Noah Gordeon, the soldier who wanted to be a sailor, never made.