Anna's Reviews > Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
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's review
Jul 08, 2007

really liked it
Read in March, 2007

This is required reading for all PC health volunteers. Just remember “If Paul is the standard, we are all fucked.” Farmer is a doctor working in rural Haiti, a land that many have forgotten and others are willfully ignoring. Tracy Kidder is a journalist who runs across Farmer while on assignment covering the political turmoil of Haiti in 1994. Kidder unexpectedly finds a man many would call (and have called) a saint. A enigmatic figure in jeans and a black shirt, Paul Farmer has taken on crippling rural poverty, institutionalized racism (or classism), TB and HIV and largely won. By focusing on the individual patient and with a clear understanding that the poor deserve no less than the rich, he has surpassed every expectation of what can be accomplished.
A TB patient stops his treatment. Instead of trusting the axiom that the poor believe they are cured once the symptoms stop, he investigates deeper to find their family was starving. TB medication is important, but feeding your children will always be a priority. Faced with a new challenge, he decided to treat the malnutrition by providing food for the families of his patients, and went further to provide a floor and a roof for their homes, potable water systems to avoid water born illnesses, and basically anything any of his patients asked of him. His methods are far from what we like to call sustainable. What would Farmer say to that? “Fuck You.”
Paul Farmer did not set out to change the world. He just wanted to help people, and he has, millions of them. He did not design his project for imitation or broad appeal. He just viewed every person individually and tried to picture each one as himself. Using this simple method of human decency he has created one of the best clinics in the world, in a country with no health care to speak of and no governmental support. He has moved on to other projects internationally, in Peru, Mexico, and Russia. Lauded by all who know him personally, and attacked by those whose worldview he disturbs.
Tracy Kidder has strong presence in his book. It is the first time, says the reader’s guide, that he has chosen to write in first person narrative. In doing so he allows himself personal bias. He connects us to the characters and gives us a strong sense of how amazing and unique Paul Farmer is. He lets us know its okay to feel annoyed at Farmer for his disregard for the norms. He lets us know its okay to feel guilty for not being able to dedicate our lives so fully to the poor.
Despite having spent the last year working in Public Health, I never really understood it and its global implications until I read this book. For Farmer healthcare for all is a moral imperative. It makes me feel a little bit better about the work I’m doing, while at the same time making me feel like I could never quite do enough.
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