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Six Months in Sudan: A Young Doctor in a War-torn Village

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  713 Ratings  ·  86 Reviews
An outstanding account of saving lives in one of the most dangerous and desperate places on Earth. James Maskalyk set out for the contested border town of Abyei, Sudan in 2007 as Médicins Sans Frontières' newest medical doctor in the field. Equipped with his experience as an emergency physician in a Western hospital and his desire to understand the hardest parts of the wor ...more
Kindle Edition, 353 pages
Published (first published April 14th 2009)
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Jan 25, 2011 Josephine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think the main reason I’m drawn to books like these is because I want to be reminded that, in spite of whatever it is you’re going through, there’s a reality out there that’s much more harsh and difficult to swallow.

When I was in journalism school, we had this one exercise where the prof showed us a picture of a baby with obvious physical abnormalities born in the aftermath of Chernobyl.

“Is this the sort of thing that we should be putting on the front page?”

This girl who used to sit next to me
It's interesting how many reviewers comment on how hopeless and repetitive Maskalyk's experiences were. That is the nature of grinding poverty (it's not called "grinding" for nothing). That is the brutality of war. The terrible difficulty people face when they work in this situation, perhaps hoping to "solve" something, is that they discover they are so busy dealing with the alligators that they have no time to drain the swamp. I often think that those who create or enable this level of chaos sp ...more
Lana Del Slay
Dec 29, 2012 Lana Del Slay rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: done-reviewed, owned
Do you know how to fall in love with someone you've never met?

You read his book. This book.

I came to Maskalyk's writing from his blog, which is itself a thing of beauty and you can find it if you Google "suddenly sudan". Don't let it redirect you! You want the man from MSF, not the sitcom. So I read his blog, and I read his other blog (Dial 'D' for Dadaab, if I remember correctly). (I must be the only person left online who writes out "if I remember correctly".)

And just like that, I regretted m
" Jika kau merasa hidupmu terasa singkat, datanglah ke Abyei"

Dr. James Maskalyk, seorang dokter relawan berkebangsaan Kanada menjalankan misi kemanusiaan di Abyei, Sudan. Beliau dikirim oleh sebuah LSM Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) atau Doctors without Borders, sebuah LSM pemberi bantuan kesehatan yang memerangi penyakit-penyakit endemik di negara-negara berkembang atau negara yang mengalami konflik. Dr. James melewati hari-harinya dengan merawat dan mengelola sebuah rumah sakit yang berada dit
This book is a memoir recalling James Maskalyk's experiences as a MSF doctor working as a physician for six months in Sudan. The account is well written and provokes a sense of emotion as Maskalyk talks about the dire conditions of war, disease and poverty in Sudan. He describes his situation in Sudan as a kind of lingo, where at one moment he wants to escape and go back home, and the next, he wants to stay to help the patients. I can compare this book to so many I have read where volunteers or ...more
May 06, 2009 Lester rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: summer09
Just finished this yesterday.

It is curious to be critical of a current event book about tragedy this way, but here goes.

Unlike many books of a similar subject matter, Maskalyk keeps to understanding the situations happening in Sudan to what he sees and does firsthand. There is less omniscient voice used than is perhaps usual for a book of this genre. In a way, the technique (whether he knew it or not) lends a real sense of both credibility and humanity to the writing. Not that the work isn't bel
Nick Marsh
Dec 27, 2014 Nick Marsh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Initially I was irritated by this book; the author seemed self-righteous and self-absorbed. However, I quickly warmed to his style, and realised that his writing was very honest, and very raw. An unflinching look at the toll on both the mind and the heart of working for an NGO in extremely difficult circumstances. No, he didn't integrate with the natives, and no, he didn't change things like he wanted to, but Maskalyk has my respect as an honest writer and a far, far better human being than I am ...more
Sabeera Dar
Jul 18, 2016 Sabeera Dar rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a first year medic this may be SLIGHTLY biased, but I REALLY enjoyed this; it offered a raw glimpse into a wonderfully difficult field and was executed with all the honesty a hopeful bushy tailed student could long for. The gripping recollections here open up your mind to a whole realm of suffering we cannot see. Amid the diary like style, there a few brilliant moments where the writing is just maddeningly good. I also just loved being able to happily swallow the medical jargon that came up- ...more
Have you ever heard of Abyei? Probably not. I sure didn't before I read this book. It's in Sudan, and it's where the author spent six months as part of the Doctors Without Borders program (MSF).

After completing residency, Maskalyk signs up for a stint in the MSF. He is taken to Sudan, to the village of Abyei which houses many soldiers and civilians and plenty of people needing medical attention. The hospital is small, but large enough to take traumas and between the diseases that run rampant in
Jan 02, 2015 Caitlin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The author has achieved a lot without coming off as racist, condescending or overly privileged as some of the other MSF memoirs do. I was sitting on giving this book 4/5 stars until I read the final few pages about the author trying to adjust to life back in the privileged world. The ending and revealed fate of the mission was devastating and while I dislike the idea of created drama or getting off on tragedy, the writing was probably at its best in the final few pages.
Sep 18, 2016 Jenn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"I just want to know, that of all the many fights out there, this is a good one."
This book was recommended to me by a man who works for Doctors without Boarders himself, I have been thinking about doing some work overseas myself and was looking for some opinions on the subject.
I don't know what I was expecting going into this but coming out I am feeling a mixture of inspired, and quietly reflective. While James worked beyond measure for the 5 ish months he was on the ground in Sudan, I believe t
May 31, 2016 Paula rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Couldn't put it down! It felt both surreal and completely heartbreaking the entire time. Maskalyk writes from a totally REAL point of view and ensures the reader can FEEL the emotions (or lack of emotion) he dealt with every single day during his time in Abyei. The story of Aweil completely hit me in the feels.....I wonder what happened to her? And how much the writer struggles with that question himself? 'It's possible that because you were too far to feel its ripples, it doesn't matter at all. ...more
Aug 17, 2014 Jennifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I won this book, from the doctor himself. For that reason alone, perhaps, I was very touched by it.

The story of a Canadian doctor who leaves home for 6 months to work with Medecins sans Frontieres in southern Sudan. He describes the hope(lessness) of the situation, honestly writes of the struggles and captures the reader's heart only to later break it.

I was particularly touched by the author's description of his own response to the poverty and pain that he witnessed and his attempt to manage i
Sharon Peters
Too much swearing at the beginning. I would have liked to read more detail on the patients in Sudan.
Sep 17, 2016 Shenali rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
One of the best books I've ever read. I hadn't hear of a place called Abyei before this month. Now I feel like I've been there. Only a dew writers have this skill to transport the reader to a different time and place. You feel what they feel and you know the people they meet. It felt like I was there in Abyei in every account with James and the team. Vivid, well described and compelling writing.

Kudos to you Dr James. As a medical student wanting to go on an MSF mission one day.. This book really
This book was a random book that I picked up from my local library - I am tryin to do this at least once per month. In this case, I am really pleased that I did.
The book is a true story, based around blogs kept by a Doctor volunteering in the hospital in the town of Abyei in Sudan. It is much expanded on those blogs, and is a difficult read.
I don't suppose any of us really understand what people who do this kind of volunteer work actually go through. Having read this I have a much better idea,
Feb 14, 2014 Barrett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I appreciated this book because it came across (disclaimer: I am an outsider, on the periphery only of professional and friend circles that intersect with this world) so accurate to MSF. Everyone knows that MSF doctors and staff are warriors in the relief world: their six-month assignments are mission-focused on the mission of saving lives…. and surviving themselves. They are in and out. On to the next place. Alone as individuals, but part of a community that is a true club of people who have se ...more
Oct 30, 2012 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'll start with my critique of the author's style.

James Maskalyk is a medical doctor with a huge appreciation for writing. During the book it seemed as though he was trying to pay homage to great literature by indulging in rich vocabulary and extensive modifiers. His writing is good, there is no doubt about that, but his colorful narritive sometimes differed from the bleakness of the topics. This sometimes jolted me away from a story that I was otherwise engrossed in.

That being said this book wa
Benjamin Kim
Dec 19, 2009 Benjamin Kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Six Months in Sudan" was actually an inspiring book. By showing the perseverance of Dr.James Maskalyk had to go through with the limited supply that he had. If you haven't already heard of this book, it's about a young doctor not knowing where to go that would give him a new experience with his medical education. Being born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, James Maskalyk lived in an uneventful area. He found out there was an opening to work in Sudan due to a doctor that was sent back home. I th ...more
Sep 20, 2009 Maggie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book covers the six months of the author’s commitment to Doctors Without Borders, an organization which goes to various needy areas worldwide, including Sudan, and provides medical care. I liked the construction of the book which switches between a chapter of prose about his experience and then a chapter from the blog which he kept while in the Sudan. I enjoyed the immediacy and rawness of the blog, which took the place of a diary as would have been used by a doctor in similar bygone times ...more
May 22, 2012 Suha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
I've decided that I wanted to re-read this book, partially because the last time I read it I was young and unable to appreciate this form of writing, but mainly because I recently decided that being a doctor (a humanitarian to be specific) is my goal in life.
The main reason I have chosen this profession is because I'm tired of feeling helpless, tired of watching documentaries and news reports and reading novels and articles and feeling this total helplessness sublime. Knowing that I am complete
Sep 26, 2012 Shana rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I will warn you that although the subject matter is fascinating and meaningful, the writing itself was not quite there. The book began as a blog, and perhaps Maskalyk’s story transmits better in that format.

The author ends up in a village called Abyei in Sudan through the organization Doctors Without Borders. His six month stint is full of dust (as he mentions quite frequently), as well as a frustrating inability to save everyone who ends up at the clinic. Some of his descriptions of dying infan
Christina Lane
I found the book to be a bit lackluster and the author somewhat self-righteous. I don't understand his need to be appreciated; it's great that he spent six months to help, but expecting a pat on the back is just silly. I don't mind the gritty nature of the book; I actually thought it was going to be worse and in more detail. Overall I'd say the only thing that really stuck out to me was when he was talking about how MSF have the means to help more (I.e, be a hearse/ambulance service) but allocat ...more
Jun 06, 2013 Caitlin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I LOVED reading this book. I've been really into non-fiction lately, and this one is a must-read. Doesn't even matter that I'm not super interested in medicine and stuff, I'm just super interested in helping people, and that's really what this book is about; one man's experience trying to help the helpless and the people who are suffering the most in this world.

The thing I loved best about this book was the writing style. Maskalyk really made me enjoy reading about his experiences, however sad
Jan 13, 2014 Liz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a really great read (couldn't put it down!) until the end, when his reflections on his experience became kind of wishy-washy and muddled . . . I guess I was hoping for a more concrete ending and some more post-MSF reviews on his time in Sudan. However that would be the 'neat little package' ending and sometimes it's good to read something that doesn't have that. Overall I really felt like I was drawn into James's experiences in Sudan and up until starting this book really didn't have a ...more
Aug 08, 2014 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating read. I think the author not only told the story of the hospital in which he worked, but he told the story of what it means to do work with MSF (Medicins sans Frontiers) and the way that the experiences change you in ways that are permanent and invisible. He conveyed the affection he felt for the place as well as the frustration. A well told story.
Apr 23, 2012 Penny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-own-it
I feel as though I have been waiting for this book my entire adult life. Maskalyk answered so many questions for me about what type of person can do this work and wether they remain untouched, intact afterwards. I liked that the author approaches his writting task responsibly knowing that people like myself will be reading it. I appreciate that he holds himself accountable in that manner. I love that he offers his reader a play by play view of what is happening and how he is or isn't dealing wit ...more
May 06, 2009 Julia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Finally! The book to compliment Dr. Maskalyk's wonderful blog for MSF (
I was very excited to read this book after following Dr. Maskalyk's blog during the summer of 2007, while he wrote it live from the field. Unfortunately, the novel itself differed significantly from the blog. The novel was much more matter-of-fact about the struggles of work in Abyei. Mainly it seemed the main struggle was boredom. In the blog I envisioned Dr. Maskalyk more as a medical "hero" and
Arina Maulita
May 18, 2016 Arina Maulita rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Terkadang kita mencari hidup yang tidak biasa, tidak mudah, dan tidak wajar. Melintasi benua menuju dunia baru yang sama sekali berbeda. Membantu orang lain, merelakan waktu-berada di tempat dimana waktu berjalan lebih lambat dan kemudian membaginya lewat sebuah kisah.
Esther Dushinsky
I read this book at least twice. Heartbreaking and sobering, leaving me feeling so puny and ungrateful for what we have, while they live with nothing and find light in the darkest places.
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“Answer me something. This life, where you get to meet people and know them, and become friends, and then in a few days or a few weeks, either they leave or you it worth it? I am not sure. I think so. Maybe having your heart broken like that is what keeps it open.” 2 likes
“People who do this type of work talk about the rupture we feel on our return, an irreconcilable invisible difference between us and others. We talk about how difficult it is to assimilate, to assume routine, to sample familiar pleasures. The rift, of course, is not in the world: it is within us....The world is a hard place -- a beautiful place, but so too an urgent one. ... Once that urgency takes hold, it never completely lets go.” 1 likes
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