So I didn’t do as well this week as I did last week. I was busy, and I got lazy. So I only read one book this week, and I barely made it. Still, I met the official quota, so go me. This week’s book is Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, a biography about Dr. Paul Farmer. Kidder follows Farmer for years on medical missions around the world.
To say that the story of Paul Farmer is inspiring is a severe understatement. Farmer grows up in poverty, but is a total brainiac, and is educated at an Ivy League school on scholarship. To make a long story short, during medical school he is struck by the absolute abject poverty, lack of medical care for peasants, and the disparity between the classes in Haiti. Because of this, he starts a clinic that provides free care to anyone who needs it. He also starts Partners In Health, whose administration keeps projects running smoothly and attempts to find and distribute funding to various places in need. Also, Farmer makes house calls himself to patients in Haiti all the time, often disregarding his own health and exhaustion, and hiking for hours to visit one or two patients. If that isn’t enough (this is a very busy man), he has health projects in Russia, Peru, and likely other places in the world since the book was published. Farmer seems as though he wants to single-handedly cure the world of all its disease. And this really didn’t make the long story shorter, huh?
The goal is a lofty one, excruciatingly difficult, but admirable, and Kidder’s depiction of Farmer is of a man that often seems close to sainthood, but with distinctly human flaws that emerge occasionally. A friend of mine happened to comment to me that this book made her feel as though you have to give up your whole life to help other people, and at times I agree. It definitely made me feel ashamed to have been born into an upper-middle-class family, and yet not use the resources available to me to help other people. Of course, I do my best to help how I can, but I haven’t given my life to the cause as Farmer and his associates have done. And yes, this book felt like a guilt trip. I even found myself looking up mission trips to Haiti and scoffing at the ones that only went for a week. So, inspiring, yes. Still, I don’t agree that everyone is called to give up everything to bring medical care or social change to third-world countries. The guilt trip grated on my nerves a bit.
And I was actually surprisingly absorbed in the book. Usually I have to force myself to read non-fiction, but here again is another book that kept me interested throughout. Granted, I tended to skip over some of the money and business rhetoric. But there were parts of the novel where the disease (AIDS and tuberculosis, mostly) were depicted almost as conscious villains that required vanquishing, and Farmer was the hero come to save the day. Each patient described had a unique and frightening case, and the tension was in whether or not Farmer could cure them.
It is quite an amazing story, and one that I’m not likely to forget. I can’t drop everything and run to Haiti for the rest of my life, but books like this serve as a reminder that there are other parts of the world that don’t even resemble the same Earth that we see daily. Many of us rarely think about what our roofs or floors are made out of, or how some people can’t afford a stove to cook on. I’d say, if you would like a glimpse into the real world around you, perhaps something to motivate you to get involved, you should read this book. Also, it’s a good story, so you can read it for the narrative too.