Review: Stephanie Nolen’s 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa

I’m currently reading a fantastic book. It’s amazingly written; the language is rich and eloquent, yet very easy to read. However, it is very difficult to read in that the content is quite harsh.

Many know the statistics: HIV has infected millions worldwide and AIDS has killed millions. Many also know that Africa is being devastated by this virus. Some know that there are drugs that can reverse AIDS into a life-long infection which, while sometimes difficult to manage, allows the person to live. This would greatly help increase the life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa, where AIDS has taken a bite out of other public health advances to reduce it to the late 30s. Imagine that: someone in Africa can only hope to live until their late 30s, a time at which in North America and Europe, people have happily settled into their married life and/or their careers.

But statistics don’t mean as much as the real stories behind them, which is what Stephanie Nolen brings to us in her book “28 Stories of AIDS in Africa.

From an internationally acclaimed journalist comes an extraordinary book that puts a human face on the AIDS crisis in Africa: twenty-eight vivid stories, one for each of the million Africans living with the virus.”

The most amazing thing about this book is that Nolen isn’t just reporting facts that she heard about or she observed while sitting in her hotel room sipping on something delicious, but rather that “in every instance, Nolen has borne witness to the stories she relates, whether riding with truck driver Mohammed Ali on a journey across Kenya; following Tigist Haile Michael, a smart, shy fourteen-year old Ethiopian orphan fending for herself and her baby brother on the slum streets of Addis Ababa; chronicling the heroic efforts of Alice Kadzanja, an HIV-positive nurse in Malawi; or talking to Nelson Mandela and his wife about coming to terms with his own son’s death from AIDS.”

These stories also show us something very important: Africa isn’t populated by people who aren’t smart and don’t know how to take care of themselves, but rather is filled with people who manage to survive despite this terrible pandemic. They clearly show that if industrialized countries and, most importantly, those living in industrialized countries put aside politics and personal opinions and put their whole-hearted supported behind this amazing continent, it will not only survive; it will conquer and thrive.

I can’t possibly offer a better review than those that have already been done, so I am taking the liberty to poach my favorite ones:

“A book of quiet yet overwhelming power, delivering a message of devastating moral authority. Moving, heartrending and uplifting, Stephanie Nolen’s book bears impeccable witness to the ‘unique and savage’ phenomenon of AIDS in Africa.” – William Boyd, author of Restless and Brazzaville Beach

“This book is both brilliant and enraging, and contains accounts of some extraordinary people doing courageous things to fight the epidemic which go a long way to counter other stories of hopelessness, ignorance and corrupt or inept government … It is a call to arms to a battle we should all have been fighting for a very long time.” – The Observer (London)

“She is an evocative and empathetic writer, and her journalism doesn’t succumb to the affliction of so much other writing about Africa, the tendency to reduce people to categories that fit the reader’s, and the author’s, preconceptions…” – The Nation (New York)

“In 28, Nolen marshals the reporting and storytelling skills that have made her, after UN special envoy Stephen Lewis, this country’s most compelling and vigorous voice for action on the grim parasite worming its way across Africa. In clear, insightful prose and vivid, though never lurid, detail, she allows her characters—one for every million people—to tell tales of despair and remarkable courage, willful ignorance and improbable triumph.” The Gazette (Montreal)

“Never sentimental, Nolen lets the people and their experiences speak for themselves. The result is both an informative and a powerful read , which will help Western readers connect personally with a crisis that too often seems remote. . . . A unique, valuable contribution to the literature on this important topic.”Library Journal

“Nolen shows that the struggle of one to live with dignity must be the struggle of all. Read. Weep. Rage. And above all else – like those people described in this brilliant book – find the courage to do.” – Dr James Orbinski, Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of Médecins Sans Frontières

The book’s website is definitely worth a visit; it features amazing pictures and videos that make the stories come to life. However, I think that the best part of the site is it’s Take Action. Read the book and be inspired to do something.