Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Book Review: Mountains Beyond Mountains

As I mentioned in this post, I chose to read Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World because it's this year's selection for the Life of the Mind freshman reading program at the University of Tennessee, where Dr. H. teaches.

I really wanted to love this book. I totally support programs like UT's Life of the Mind. I think it is an awesome way to get students and faculty moving together.

But I am puzzled as to why this book was chosen. The premise is fascinating. I was excited to read this story about Dr. Paul Farmer, a specialist in infectious diseases, who makes it his life's quest to bring health to Haiti, one person at a time. I loved reading about Paul Farmer and his experiences in Haiti. He is an obviously brilliant man with a compassionate heart beyond comprehension. I believe in him and believe that he and his team at Partners in Health are making incredible things happen around the world. The stories of his experiences in Haiti, Peru, and Russia are absorbing and compelling for the most part.

The problem for me was that the book was disjointed. Am I allowed to say that about a book written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author? The first half of the book mainly focused on Farmer and was extremely well done and engaging. But the second half became an odd combination of random conversations and medical jargon. People came in and out, and I lost track of who they were. Pages at a time seemed superfluous to the narrative; I found myself skimming dialogue that appeared out of nowhere and was disconnected.

I have read dozens of reviews about this book, and everyone seems to give it a 5-star rating. I understand that U.T. chose this book largely because of the Haitian crisis. I think it's fantastic that exhibits, lectures and movies will continue on with this theme throughout the school year. I love that the university is embracing a global perspective, taking students (and faculty) out of their self-absorbed years and encouraging them to consider personal responsibility in this world. I'm just afraid that this particular book wasn't the best choice.

That, of course, made me wonder what other books about Haiti might have been picked. I quick amazon.com search brought up lots of titles, including several by Dr. Paul Farmer, like The Uses of Haiti and Partner to the Poor. I have a feeling I might like Dr. Farmer's writing voice more than I liked Kidder's filter. I'm going to be adding some of these titles to my TBR list.


Lisa said...

I had the same reaction to this one, right down to the first half was great, second half bored me because it was hard to follow.

Embejo said...

I haven't read it, but I'm like you. I feel unqualified to criticize an award winning author. (The English Patient put me to sleep...but I feel guilty saying that!)

wisteria said...

I'm sorry this one did not measure up for you. Embejo...The English Patient put me to sleep also.