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

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  1,100 ratings  ·  107 reviews
“People are hungry to be brought closer to the world, even its hard parts. I went to Sudan, and am writing about it again, because I believe that which separates action from inaction is the same thing that separates my friends from Sudan. It is not indifference. It is distance. May it fall away.”

In 2007 James Maskalyk set out for the contested border town of Abyei, Sudan,
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published April 14th 2009 by Doubleday Canada
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Jan 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 26, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Sep 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Jan 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
A moving account of an individual humanitarian experience. This doctor’s account includes his day to day life as a physician in a rural and isolated town in Sudan, his struggles to treat his patients given the infrastructural limitations and cultural differences, and includes his experiences seeing emergency cases and what would be outpatient cases. The book also describes his life outside of the hospital, his living conditions, and his interactions with the town and its residents. Maskalyk’s bo ...more
Lana Del Slay
Dec 29, 2012 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
When doctor James Maskalyk decided it was time to “put something back” and take a break from his work in the Emergency Room of a Canadian hospital, he chose to apply to be a volunteer with Medecins Sans Frontiers and told them he’d go ‘anywhere’. The organisation sent him to Sudan in 2007 to work in a hospital in small town called Abyei. During the six months that he was in Abyei, he kept a diary and wrote a blog about his experiences. MSF didn’t always appreciate the blog and worried that what ...more
May 28, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: on-my-bookshelf
Mixed feelings about this one. Mainly I didn't connect with the author's writing style. ...more
Mohammed Ghoul
Nov 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
5 stars.
5 stars, not because the writing is brilliant, but because it's Raw. 5 stars, not because the book is a master piece, but because it is reality. 5 stars, not because the characters are deep and complex and the story is intriguing, but because of the it is REAL, it happened, rather it is happening as we speak again and again.
This book hit me hard, I have always been more for the academic and research side of my medical carrier. My main priority was and still is for the most part, is contr
Sep 20, 2013 rated it liked it
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 rated it liked it
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
Shaeley Santiago
Sep 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Pathways students
Shelves: non-fiction, africa
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
Nick Marsh
Dec 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Sharon Peters
Jun 29, 2015 rated it liked it
Too much swearing at the beginning. I would have liked to read more detail on the patients in Sudan.
Nov 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I first read this book about ten years ago, shortly after it was published. I can't remember how I came across it, but I remember how it affected me. It stayed with me for years. This year, I coincidentally got to know the author after I found the CEC (Consciousness Explorers Club). It was only after meeting him that I realized he had written this book that I had read ten years ago.

After finishing this book a second time, I was again struck by its poignancy and its immediacy. I was not fortunat
Not a masterpiece but a good glimpse of what the life of a volunteer doctor is like in a third world country. Dr. James came off as genuinely concerned for his patients and the city. My issue with the book is the message, to me it seems that he wants to either convince people to not participate in these types of missions or be ready to have PTSD. I don't feel that he turned his experience into a positive by appreciating the luxuries he has in Canada compared to Sudan. He didn't learn new ways to ...more
Bennett Moody
Jan 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
What an incredible read. I found I was able to connect with this book in a unique way having lived in West Africa as a teenager. There are aspects of Dr. James story that remain unfathomable, especially regarding the medical cases he encountered—though I have heard similar stories from my mother from when she nursed in rural Cameroon. Above all I take away a greater connectedness with the town of Abyei and its people, and a greater sense of hope for the future.
Travis Lupick
Jun 10, 2017 rated it liked it
This review was originally published in the Georgia Straight newspaper.
Abyei is a small town in a disputed border region between north and south Sudan. There, stuck between two opposing military compounds, is an underfunded Doctors Without Borders outpost where Toronto-based emergency physician James Maskalyk spent half a year in 2007. Emotional and beautifully written, Maskalyk’s account of life in Abyei humanizes one of the most terrible places on Earth. His memoir describes tragedy in a way t
Feb 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Hats off to Dr James, trying to do an impossible job in the most difficult circumstances. This story is darker than I could have predicted and tells stories of violence and abuse that could shock even the most wordly of minds. Sudan sounds like a place that has been forgotten by God, a hell on earth, that after 6 months for one man unbelievably became a kind of normal.
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
I had to stop reading this on the plane ride to my next work assignment because every time I opened it I felt like crying. Not necessarily tears of sadness but tears of understanding and hope that I might be able to do something like this in the future with my nursing degree.
May 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fast, thought provoking read about how our world is one and we should care what happens in a land faraway. Can we leave our cushy life to make a difference? The author did, and was better for it.
Alex Ma
May 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Read the blog instead
Jun 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: africa
Great book but I felt like the narrative was a bit choppy. The stories of working in Abyei were wonderful!
Oct 07, 2018 rated it liked it
A bit disappointing. Writing rather uneven.
Nov 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
5? - I love stuff like this, he's brilliant at taking us there. It's immediate, tough, funny and the right level of humble. Kept reading bits out loud ...more
Dec 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent! And gut wrenching. It pulls on a strange and familiar heart string about living abroad and not wanting to relive it upon returning home.

I’d love to have dinner with the author.
Sophie Dowling
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
An honest account of world far removed from ours. Very interesting read.
Nov 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In different ways this has been the easiest but most difficult book to read.
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
Jun 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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James is a physician and author, both of the international bestseller “Six Months in Sudan” and more recently, “Life on the Ground Floor“. He practices emergency medicine and trauma at St. Michael’s, Toronto’s inner-city hospital and is an award winning teacher at the University of Toronto.

He directs a program that works with Ethiopian partners at Addis Ababa University to train East Africa’s firs

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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.” 2 likes
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