Monday, May 28, 2007

28: Stories of AIDs in Africa by Stephanie Nolen

Books Completed: 72
Completion Date: May 2007
Publication Year: 2007
Pages: 416
Received from Random House in 2007

From one of our most widely read, award-winning journalists – comes the powerful, unputdownable story of the very human cost of a global pandemic of staggering scope and scale. It is essential reading for our times.

In 28, Stephanie Nolen, the Globe and Mail’s Africa Bureau Chief, puts a human face to the crisis created by HIV-AIDS in Africa. She has achieved, in this amazing book, something extraordinary: she writes with a power, understanding and simplicity that makes us listen, makes us understand and care. Through riveting anecdotal stories – one for each of the million people living with HIV-AIDS in Africa – Nolen explores the effects of an epidemic that well exceeds the Black Plague in magnitude. It is a calamity that is unfolding just a 747-flight away, and one that will take the lives of these 28 million without the help of massive, immediate intervention on an unprecedented scale. 28 is a timely, transformative, thoroughly accessible book that shows us definitively why we continue to ignore the growth of HIV-AIDS in Africa only at our peril and at an intolerable moral cost.

28’s stories are much more than a record of the suffering and loss in 28 emblematic lives. Here we meet women and men fighting vigorously on the frontlines of disease: Tigist Haile Michael, a smart, shy 14-year-old Ethiopian orphan fending for herself and her baby brother on the slum streets of Addis Ababa; Alice Kadzanja, an HIV-positive nurse in Malawi, where one in six adults has the virus, and where the average adult’s life expectancy is 36; and Zackie Achmat, the hero of South Africa’s politically fragmented battle against HIV-AIDS.

28 also tells us how the virus works, spreads and, ultimately, kills. It explains the connection of HIV-AIDS to conflict, famine and the collapse of states; shows us how easily treatment works for those lucky enough to get it and details the struggles of those who fight to stay alive with little support. It makes vivid the strong, desperate people doing all they can, and maintaining courage, dignity and hope against insurmountable odds. It is – in its humanity, beauty and sorrow – a call to action for all who read it.
For one of my last papers in university, I discussed how not enough attention was being given to AIDs and other life-threatening illnesses, while the Bird Flu is on the news with every new reported case. AIDs in Africa is a television special, it is not something that is looked at with any real regularity and concern. There are 28 million people living in Africa with AIDs right now. This book has one story for each million.

Some people may be wondering why I chose to look at the monetary side of things. It is frankly because these people all ready have the disease, it is the health care that is lacking. The scarest thing I ever saw on television was a woman that was dying from AIDs and instead of being treated for that disease, she was being treated for her symptoms. In Africa, more people die sooner than they have to because the money is not there to provide the necessities to keep a person with HIV from contracting AIDs and dying. It is sad but true. People are not dying from AIDs alone, they are dying from a combination of the disease and poverty, and then we are in our First World nations wasting money on things that we do not need. It's a sad world.

All that is even before I get into the book. I am not sure why the AIDs struggle has always struck a cord with me, I know of people with the disease, but I have never known someone well with the disease and I have never had to watch someone die from it. I think Stephanie Nolen's book is long overdue. With these 28 stories she puts a face on people who live with this disease everyday. People think that AIDs is not a problem, but you look into the eyes of these people that are suffering, you see the statistics and you tell me how it is not a problem. Parents die leaving their children to fend for themselves, grandparents are forced to be parents all over again to countless children, whole families have been wiped out, worlds have been torn apart.

I can not say that this is the best book ever written, what I can say is that I wish it was a book that never had to be written. I wish that people were more aware, but people need to read this book. It was one of the most touching, informative, and heart-breaking books I have ever read. These are real people who suffer from a real disease. In these pages you hear just how hard it is, just how limited the health care system is, how even eating correctly is not something open to many of these people. You see the doctors that are fighting for a cure, you see the ordinary people that have rose to places of power to get their communities the help they need, and you learn of the stigma that continues to surround this disease in many places.

This is a book that had to be written. It is not someone on the outside telling the world how it is, it is the people on the inside showing you what life is like for them. 28 million people living with AIDs in Africa today, here are 28 of their stories. Be aware that this review is my opinion, I am not expecting everyone to agree with me and I am not speaking for Stephanie Nolen. This is just how I see the situation and how her book relates to it.



  1. What a moving review, your passion on this issue comes through strongly Kailana. I think the western media is only interested in promoting news that strikes fear into its own populace, AIDS seems to have quietened down in the west due to the availability of medication and hence something like the bird flu which is a complete unknown (unknown as to if it might be a threat and unknown in that there can be no treatment or cure until it does cross over).

    I'm not sure if this has released in Australia yet but I'll certainly remember your review when it is.

  2. Excellent review, Kelly, as always. I agree that the AIDS crisis is one that needs a great deal of attention- not only in Africa, but in India as well, where the disease is spreading so rapidly. I don't think it is the fault of western countries, really, nor do I think it's the fault of the pharmaceutical companies, that there is no cure yet. But it's a horrible, terrifying disease. And I'll definitely be on the lookout for this book.

  3. I am glad both of you liked the review! It was a hard one to write, actually, I found myself changing it a lot.

    Aarti: I never meant to blame anyone for the cure, I meant to blame them for the management of the disease. If I implied anything else it was not my intention. I know that curing the disease takes quite a long time.

    I hope no one thinks I only think this is a problem in Africa, I am perfectly aware it exists globally, the book was just about Africa!


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