Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Stories of AIDS in Africa, by Stephanie Nolen.

Quickie recap: For the past 10 years, people in affluent, western nations have been living with AIDS. In Africa, they still die of it, thousands per week. Many of them die knowing that drugs that could save them exist, but these drugs remain unattainable because they're too costly, or because a country's infrastructure can't handle the distribution, or, perversely, because too many doctors and nurses have already died of AIDS, and there aren't enough of them left to treat those who otherwise might be saved. 28 brave souls tell their story and ask the question soon to be on all of our tongues – why?

Quickie review: This book deserves so much in the way of applause, it's hard to know where to start. I think when we attempt to tackle such an enormous issue, it's easy to get lost in the facts, in the stats, in the unknown 28 million faces of AIDS, but Nolen has a gift for distilling what's real. Nolen has made it personal: by introducing us to these 28, we can no longer hide behind our disconnect. She skips the sentimentality, but compassion is palpable despite the unflinching inspection of what is wrong with our global community. Stephen Lewis calls it the best book on AIDS that he's ever read, but as a voracious reader myself, I would tend to call it one of the best books I've ever read, period. I gave it my time and my tears because it earned them - rarely, if ever, do information and beautiful prose blend so seamlessly together. But Nolen's most notable achievement is that a book that so easily could have been mired in hopelessness somehow rises above it - far, far above it.

Quickie recommendation: This book has changed me and changed my perspective, and you need to let it change yours as well. Do yourself a favour and read.


Lolly said...

I recently heard a radio interview with this author. It was very interesting, but I had not really thought I would enjoy a book about AIDS. But on your recommendation, I'll pick it up sometime.

I love your reviews!

Jay said...

Thank you, Lolly.
"Enjoy" is a funny word, isn't it?

Why do we watch movies that make us cry, or hang paintings with disturbing images in our homes? Personally, I "enjoy" things that move me, that provoke a response, even if it's not always a happy one.

But surprisingly, this book wasn't as dark as I would have guessed. Being armed with knowledge makes you braver, and in the weeks since I've read it, I continue to talk about this book because it's definitely stuck with me.