Mountains Beyond Mountains...A review.
My dear friend Katie gave me this book. And I trust Katie (and her husband Devin) when it comes to book recommendations almost more than anyone. They're the kind of brilliant people that make you want to read to get smarter, like they already are.
Fun sidebar: they were my social opposites in college. Me a jock and them, again, brilliant (not that those things are always mutually exclusive, just in my case). Just to give you an idea of the kind of person I was projecting myself to be: Katie once saw a photo of me from high school on Facebook and mentally created a "high school Rachel" character. High school Rachel's most famous line was, "Oh my God Britney Spears? I love her work."
I've evolved since then, hopefully you've noticed. Katie noticed and knew that I would appreciate this book. And did I ever. It was absolutely enthralling. I mean, the story of Dr. Paul Farmer is itself astounding; he is basically on a quest to eliminate tuberculosis and AIDS around the world.
But even the intensity of his generosity and lack of weariness, the writing is what really grabbed me. Tracy Kidder blends the history and context of countries with Dr. Paul Farmer's work within them to give readers a sense of place. He makes convoluted systems, bureaucracies, and diseases understandable. He weaves humanness into the most dull of topics and keeps you engaged.
The immense focus and determination this kind of book takes to write is not really quantifiable. I think that's why there aren't many of them. Jon Krakauer is the only other author in this genre that I think does this as well.
If I wrote books (which I don't because hello: terrifying), this would be the kind of book that would make me most proud to write. There is no time for laziness while on the job. Kidder would have had to be mentally engaged 100% of the time, no matter how tired, hungry or overwhelmed he felt. Thinking about it and his talent makes my heart swell with envy. But I guess somebody has to be that good. And I'll gladly consume that kind of work. Hint: you should too!
Who is this book for?
Medical professionals: Yes. I feel like there are so many ways to travel as a health professional and this would be so inspiring if that were my particular skill set. Which is obviously isn't.
General do-gooders: Absolutely. There will be guilt and pressure associated for people with a bent toward empathy, but read the Epilogue and you'll feel a little better.
Journalists: Most definitely. This kind of writing should be course curriculum in my opinion for journalism students.
What does this book say?
He had problems with groups that on the surface would have seemed like allies, that often were alice in fact, with for example what he called "WL's"—white liberals, some of whose most influential spokespeople were black and prosperous. "I love WL's, love 'em to death. They're on our side," he had told me some days ago, defining the term. "But WL's think all the world's problems can be fixed without any cost to themselves. We don't believe that. There's a lot to be said for sacrifice, remorse, even pity. It's what separates us from the roaches."
How could a just God permit great misery? The Haitian peasants answered with a proverb: "Bondye konn bay, men li pa konn spare," in literal translation, "God gives but doesn't share." The meant, as Farmer would later explain it, "God gives us humans everything we need to flourish, but he's not the one who's supposed to divvy up the loot. That charge was laid upon us."
"An H of G" was short for "a hermeneutic of generosity," which he had defined once for me in an email: "I have a hermeneutic of generosity for you because I know you're good guy. Therefore I will interpret what you say and do in a favorable light. Seems like I'm the one who should hope for as much from you."