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Sizwe's Test: A Young Man's Journey Through Africa's AIDS Epidemic
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Sizwe's Test: A Young Man's Journey Through Africa's AIDS Epidemic

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  462 Ratings  ·  57 Reviews
At the age of twenty-nine, Sizwe Magadla is among the most handsome, well-educated, and richest of the men in his poverty-stricken village. Dr. Hermann Reuter, a son of old South West African stock, wants to show the world that if you provide decent treatment, people will come and get it, no matter their circumstances.

Sizwe and Hermann live at the epicenter of the greate

Hardcover, 349 pages
Published February 12th 2008 by Simon & Schuster (first published 2008)
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Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd give this a solid 4*s overall as I found the writing in this book to be pretty approachable and intriguing. This is a non-fiction story about Jonny Steinberg's travels to South Africa and his time meeting a local resident and shadowing some health professionals such as Dr. Herman Reuter who worked for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctor's Without Borders).

The story takes place mostly during the early 2000s, and Steinberg (a young gay man himself) was interested in learning about the shadow and
May 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Johnny Steinberg traveled around a small 40-mile radius with a black South African in the Eastern Cape, exploring the concept of male shame and trying to explain why black men aren't getting tested for HIV in South Africa. His explaination is, ultimately, deep and brilliant--but definitely hidden in the pages, so you do have to read the entire book to get it. But it's an easy read and a fun read. If you're interested in South Africa, especially South Africa in a post-apartheid age, this is a boo ...more
Feb 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Steinberg goes to a rural South African village, where electricity is a luxury and TVs and Cars are nearly non-existent, to try to determine what creates the stigma around HIV/AIDS, and why someone would refuse to take anti-retroviral drugs that could potentially save them when they are so readily available. The story follows Hermann Reuter, a white doctor who is determined that everyone will take ARVs so long as the drugs are consistently available in close proximity to the people in need, and ...more
Sep 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
This review is actually for the non-US version of this book "Three Letter Plague." I don't think there are any differences between the two versions though, other than the title and probably the spelling of some words that differ from American English!

This one is a fascinating look, on a micro level, the politics and social implications of HIV testing in rural South Africa, and the realities of rural health care.

I really liked getting to know the people of the story, and how they live and how th
Jan 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow! This book, so far, is very good. It is a non-fiction story following a 29 year old South African trying to make the decision whether or not to get tested for HIV. To an American, it may seem absurd that one would not get tested, although in some ways the social stigma is still there. But in Africa, making this sort of decision is woven with many other fibers, ones most Americans will never experience. Fibers of witchcraft, revenge, financial ruin, myths and false truths.

Very eye opening, an
Annie Holmes
I think it's called Sizwe's Test in the U.S. 100% recommended. As remarkable for the writing and thinking as for the subject - or, rather, the subjects: HIV/AIDS, culture and tradition, South Africa, race, gender, heath systems, how to write creative non-fiction. I couldn't stop reading, finished it on two consecutive flights.
Jean Grant
Sep 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: lovers of literary non-fiction; medical stuff; interest in Africa
Recommended to Jean by: picked it up at 2nd hand store--great cover
A stunning accomplishment, so subtle. I woke up early to read it. Stayed up late. It's the kind of book which makes me wish I didn't give 5-stars so readily, as so many of them, compared to this book, are only 4s.

Love Steinberg's imaginative use of language, sometimes old-fashioned but the rhythm moves one along.
Mar 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Like others of Steinberg's books, this provides an insight into the thinking not just of the young man of the title, but others in his family and community. While the story is predominantly based on interview Steinberg did with him, in English rather than the language of the community, the journey of those navigating the AIDS/HIV epidemic is compassionately told.
Jan 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Jonny Steinberg clearly and humanely presents the dilemma facing Siswe, one of thousands of South Africans who face what Westerners regard as the essential HIV test.

Partly in response to the South African government's inaction and dismissal of the pandemic of HIV and AIDS, Medecins Sans Frontiers establishes a program to educate villagers about HIV and to disseminate ARVs. Testing seems an obvious choice to Jonny and Dr. Hermann Reuter (of MSF): If Sizwe takes the test and has positive results,
Lindsay Wilson
The book I was most reminded of while reading this book is "Witches, Westerners, and HIV" by Alexander Rodlach. Both are really informative and well-written, and get at the heart of stigma and shame experienced by many people who are either HIV positive or are unwilling to be tested. "Sizwe's Test" deals more with the latter, and differs from Rodlach's book in that instead of detailing the experiences of a whole village or region, Steinberg chooses to present what is, for all intents and purpose ...more
This one is a fascinating look, on a micro level, the politics and social implications of HIV testing in rural South Africa, and the realities of rural health care.

I really liked getting to know the people of the story, and how they live and how they see the world, including how they marry the traditional with the modern. This one is not an overall look at HIV and stigma and the epidemic in South Africa - it only looks at one small corner of one corner of South Africa - so you can't expect it t
Jul 06, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Public health, anthropology people
Although this is a quick and easy read, I still found myself nodding off to sleep every time I opened it. Apart from its sleep-inducing qualities, it is quite interesting from a health-behavior seeking perspective. In South Africa, the book is known as 'The Three-Letter Plague', which I like better as a title.

According to Alena, the summary:

Whine, whine, whine...I'm not getting an HIV test...whine, whine, whine...Should I get tested...whine, whine, whine...what would people say?...whine, whine,
Olwethu Nqevu
Nov 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This books ticks all the boxes for me. I have read it for way more than anybody ever reads a book, way more than I should have. I was avoiding having to restart it. In one go, I have bushed it.

I was thrilled by Steinberg's research and honesty throughout the book. With my paternal family in Lusikisiki I found myself relating completely to the book contents.

Having spent some time in the area around the time he was there (although I did not know him nor have met him) I can't help shake the feeling
Jun 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was a well researched story examining the reasons people do or do not decide to test for HIV and/or start HIV treatment through the eyes of Sizwe and a pioneering doctor from MSF (Doctors Without Borders). For me, it was a good reminder of what we're up against in trying to combat the spread of HIV, and a reminder that we need to be singularly focused on addressing the barriers to testing and treatment. Some barriers are are systematic, others are deeply personal and cultural. Finding ways ...more
Julia Hill
Jan 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For those unfamiliar with the complexities of providing AIDS treatment, even when medicines are freely available, Steinberg's book uses the story of a young man named Sizwe to illustrate the challenges that stigma, personality, ignorance and location play in limiting access to HIV testing and treatment. Doctors Without Borders' Lusikisiki program features prominently, as do the personal efforts of a community health care worker. The picture seems a bit grim from where it is told, focusing on why ...more
This is a book about HIV and Africa. It is a book about "black people's secrets" and why people don't get tested or get treatment when they can. When I bought this book, the white South African that sold it to me almost threw it across the counter and said "Enjoy your holiday", but the tone implied that he thought it was inappropriate for me to be reading this. I wanted to say that I wasn't on holiday, I was working, but thought perhaps there are "white people's secrets" around this too.
Nov 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An insightful and incredible study of the HIV epidemic and the difficulty of applying traditional medical models to both diagnosis and treatment. Spell binding and an absolute must for all persons working with HIV in Africa

Merged review:

this is the most insightful and illuminating book I have read about the cultural antecedents of HIV in So Africa. A MUST read for anyone trying to understand the extent of this epidemic and why it is so bad in southern africa compared to anywhere else. It had the
A fascinating look at the South African HIV epidemic, concentrating on one village and one man. Sizwe refuses to be tested, although as the book progresses he does persuade other family/friends to test and follow treatment.
Much of the book is about the author trying to understand Sizwe and his reasoning, but it's also about the MSF programme bringing ARVs to this remote region; the stigma of HIV versus the reality of successful treatment; tradition versus modern life and the struggling health s
Sep 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Quite an incredible book---and I would venture to say, if you're going to read a book about AIDS in South Africa, perhaps start here. Not necessarily an uplifting book, but I think it is important in that it illuminates how cultural, personal and bureaucratic forces affect healthcare treatment not just in South Africa but throughout the world. As I've said before about Jonny Steinberg, he is an adept journalist, always self-conscious about his own positioning yet willing to ask difficult questio ...more
Amin Amou
Oct 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An engaging book which unfolds suffocating complexities around HIV+ and AIDS patients. Social stigma, guilt, and superstition were only few of the problems that HIV+ patients in rural South Africa were struggling with. Jonny Steinberg's journey touches on some public health structural problems in the aftermath of HIV/AIDS epidemic in SA. The journey contains invaluable lessons for the countries that live under the shadow of the disease.
Oct 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In this book, a South African writer attempts to understand the impact of an ARV program in a small village in his country. He insightfully describes systemic barriers to care and treatment for HIV as well as stigma and social issues surrounding the disease. The main character, Sizwe, becomes a sort of case study for the successes and challenges of the treatment program and the availability of drugs.
David Meldrum
A haunting, incisive and honest chronicle of a young rural man's relationship with the HIV plague, testing and treatment; like Steinberg's excellent 'The Number' I learned much from it. This time about rural poverty in SA, black fear of white cultural domination and manipulation, and the social complexity of rural cultures. Occasionally it becomes a little dry and technical, drifting away from the central narratives; much of the time this true-life story is gripping and moving.
Michele Bové
Dec 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
SIZWE'S TEST is a beautifully written, articulate book that deserves a significant audience. Steinberg has done a remarkable job; what often feels like overdone subject of which there is little else to say or write about is here made anew with a startling personal look at a global epidemic that compels you revaluate what you know about HIV/AIDS in Africa. It's narrative nonfiction at its very best.
Jul 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book was a really in-depth, personalized look at the complicated decision making process around HIV testing in South Africa. It highlights the shortcomings of the health care infrastructure, while also allowing the reader to better understand the inter and intrapersonal dynamics of testing. It was a great read and I would recommend it for anyone interested in the AIDS Epidemic or delivery of global health care.
Jul 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
As a doctoral student doing HIV research in rural South Africa - I really enjoyed reading this book. Offers a unique perspective to some of the limitations to HIV testing outside of simply health system constraints. Helped me understand how culture, local stigma, human fear, and love shape the decisions people make; even if they know those decisions might not be in their best interest.
Aug 16, 2008 rated it liked it
An interesting take on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa from the perspective of one man and, through him, his community told by a journalist. Is a good reads as it humanizes many aspects of the epidemic, but falls short of being great due to what feels like the author's confusion as to why he decided to tell this young man's story in the first place.
Feb 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think the interesting thing about this book is that the author never allows anyone - neither the subjects nor himself - to just give one answer that floats unexamined on the surface of things. He keeps ruminating and questioning and returning to the question of why do people do a certain thing or feel a certain way.
May 24, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommended to Mary by: Seattle Time's review
This was a slow read. I liked it, but the author wandered a little in his account--moving from a history of public health and AIDS in South Africa to the story of the young South African storekeeper, Sizwe. I know why, but it made it a book I kept putting down and picking up something more entertaining.
Mar 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
I thought is was a very informative look at the HIV epidemic in southern Africa. I am heading there this summer to work in Lesotho and this book gave me insight into the aspects of the culture and the mindset that has added to the epidemic. It was an easy read and I would recommend it to anyone who is curious to understand more deeply the issue.
Like others of Steinberg's books, this provides an insight into the thinking not just of the young man of the title, but others in his family and community. While the story is predominantly based on interviews Steinberg did with Sizwe, in English rather than the language of the community, the journey of those navigating the AIDS/HIV epidemic is compassionately told.
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