Friday, January 15, 2010

Inspiring Haitian Story

Prophetically, last month two good friends sent us a Christmas present: Tracy Kidder's "Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World." Accompanying the gift was a note urging us to read it because it was "the most inspiring book we've ever read."

It was an unexpected, odd gift from these friends of ours. She Who Must Be Obeyed decided to read it to see what our friends meant. She was halfway through the book when the earthquake struck Haiti.

Normally, She Who Must Be Obeyed is hard to impress. Working, as she does, with all manner of people in the legal system she's also rather cynical about "inspirational stories." But she has become very enthusiastic about Dr. Farmer's story. It is, she says, every bit as inspiring as our friends promised:
At the center of Mountains Beyond Mountains stands Paul Farmer. Doctor, Harvard professor, renowned infectious-disease specialist, anthropologist, the recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant, world-class Robin Hood. Farmer was brought up in a bus and on a boat, and in medical school found his life's calling: to diagnose and cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. This magnificent book shows how radical change can be fostered in situations that seem insurmountable, and it also shows how a meaningful life can be created, as Farmer -- brilliant, charismatic, charming, both a leader in international health and a doctor who finds time to make house calls in Boston and the mountains of Haiti — blasts through convention to get results.

Mountains Beyond Mountains takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that "the only real nation is humanity." He enlists the help of the Gates Foundation, George Soros, the U.N.'s World Health Organization, and others in his quest to cure the world. At the heart of this book is the example of a life based on hope, and on an understanding of the truth of the Haitian proverb "Beyond mountains there are mountains": as you solve one problem, another problem presents itself, and so you go on and try to solve that one too.

"Mountains Beyond Mountains unfolds with the force of a gathering revelation," says Annie Dillard, and Jonathan Harr says, "[Farmer] wants to change the world. Certainly this luminous and powerful book will change the way you see it."
The New Yorker has a free excerpt from Kidder's July 10, 2000, 17-page magazine article which was expanded for the book. It would be timely to buy the book here, here, or here and read it after you make a donation to Haitian relief.


Anonymous said...

I read the Farmer book it was really very good and I don't generally like non-fiction. Highly recommend.

Anonymous said...

Saw Kidder on Maddow last night and ordered the book today. He is an excellent spokesperson for the plight of the Haitian people. He was quite frank in his observations, and inspiring in regards to his work.