My Own Country (Verghese)
Have you ever wondered what it would be like at the frontline of a brand new epidemic? Read Hamish Graham’s review of Abraham Verghese’s My Own Country, then browse more Books and Films.
Since its emergence in the 1980s, HIV/AIDS has changed the course of human history. From the strange array of medical manifestations to images of the Grim Reaper and the defiant protest movement – HIV/AIDS challenged every part of the medical, social and political establishment.
Abraham Verghese’s autobiographical book My Own Country describes what it was like being a rural physician on the frontline of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. As a young Indian doctor, Verghese migrated to the US in the early 1980s, settling in a quiet country town nestled in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. With training in infectious diseases Verghese was the go-to person when HIV/AIDS made its dramatic entrance to this quiet, conservative town just a few years later.
In compassionate prose, Verghese shares the stories of dozens of people he came to know as he shared their journey with HIV. Tennessee queens, men in leather, stalwart church members, poverty-entrenched trailer folk. Readers are drawn deep into stories behind the clichés, from the inspirational, the comical, the hopeless, the pitiful. From a medical point of view Verghese shares the feeling of futility having no effective treatment, and the hope and disappointment of successive potential ‘cures’ – while simultaneously illustrating the enormous value and privilege of simply caring and sharing a journey.
Socially, My Own Country brings to life the very real prejudice and stigma around being gay or having HIV – including health professionals who refuse to do their job. But this is also the story of a town coming of age, maturing into a more accepting, loving town that could now begin to embrace the differences that were always there – now made explicit by HIV. As a country boy myself, I particularly appreciated this nuanced and ultimately positive narrative and could see many parallels to my own community and other contemporary social challenges.
This book will appeal to anyone has ever wondered what it would be like being on the frontline of an epidemic; as well as those who are interested in the history and social impact of HIV/AIDS, and the intersection between health, politics and society.