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

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  539 ratings  ·  72 reviews
An inspiring story of one doctor’s struggle in a war-torn village in the heart of Sudan

In 2007, James Maskalyk, newly recruited by Doctors Without Borders, set out for the contested border town of Abyei, Sudan. An emergency physician drawn to the ravaged parts of the world, Maskalyk spent six months treating malnourished children, coping with a measles epidemic, watching f
ebook, 352 pages
Published May 26th 2009 by Spiegel & Grau (first published April 14th 2009)
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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
" 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
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
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
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
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,
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
Nick Marsh
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
Dr. Maskalyk chronicles the six months he spent with Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) in the Sudanese town of Abyei. In addition to telling stories about the medical aspect of his mission, Dr. M. discusses the process of culture shock he underwent. At first, he was an energetic participant eager to change the world. However, he quickly realized that his capability to effect change was limited. As his story progressed, his thinking matured when he focused looked beyond each indi ...more
Mimi Fintel
In 2007 James Maskalyk was recruited by Doctors Without Borders and sent to Abyei, Sudan. He was there for 6 months caring for patients, watching for war, and struggling to make due with the few resources available. This book is a memoir of his time there and his ponderings of the things he was experiencing. He became a changed person after his experience in Sudan. After reading this, I feel guilty for all the food, electricity, medical care, etc. that I have in my life when these poor people ha ...more
Great memoir of one doctor's quest to do more in the world. He really gets to the heart of working for an NGO (Doctors Without Borders) in a third-world nation in the middle of a civil war. Knowing the problems that the refugees have had coming back into certain regions of Sudan, his story really sells that more is to be done without hitting the reader over the head with it. I loved that he didn't shy away from his personal struggles of wanting to leave and go home, even though he ultimately did ...more
Shaeley Santiago
Sep 11, 2011 Shaeley Santiago rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Pathways students
Shelves: africa, non-fiction
Interesting story about MSF (Doctors without Borders) in Sudan. The story fills in the details between blog posts written by Dr. James Maskalyk. While his experience was primarily focused on the hospital where he worked fighting malnutrition in children, a measles outbreak, and many other issues heightened by the lack of access to medical treatment and extreme poverty (not to mention the ever-present threat of the outbreak of war), he does provide some interesting insight to the culture of Sudan ...more
This is my third book about a young doctor doing humanitarian work in some war torn counrty, but it is much more. It offers a small window in the life of a medical professional, the toll it takes on you and the drive to carry on. This book was started as a blog during his time in Sudan as an attempt to give updates to his family. A vivid account of his time working with the Sudanese in the middle of a civil war and his determination to bring medicine to a place that needs it most.
Well, I was working in South Sudan when I read it, so it may have something to do with how I felt about the book. It was certainly real and I recognized a lot - though I am not a doctor - but it seemed a somewhat disjointed read. And although I think the experience had a profound effect on the author, he leaves you with the sense (but not verification) that he did not go back to work for MSF again, which makes me think...'well, he got a book out of it'.
Merrill Clark
While serving a medical mission in a war-torn, fourth, world country initially sounds romantic, what bothered me about this book was the hopelessness and the fact that the medical services were not really solving long term problems. Even the medical staff felt that way. I need a book where things improve. That is what exhausts me everyweek in the branch I serve; many times it seems hopeless on improving people's lives. Perhaps I need more patience.
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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.” 1 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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