Thursday, July 05, 2007

Quote from "Mountains Beyond Mountains"

"Paul has created technical solutions to help the rest of us get to decency, a road map to decency that we can all follow without trying to imitate him.... Paul is a model of what should be done. He is not a model for how it should be done. Let's celebrate him. Let's make sure people are inspired by him. But we can't say anybody should or could be just like him." (Mountains Beyond Mountains: The quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a man who would cure the world by Tracy Kidder, p. 244)

This quote is from Paul Farmer's associate Jim Kim, explaining that the poor people in Haiti and elsewhere can't wait until exceptional people like Paul Farmer come along to get good health care. I think this attempt to de-emphasize personal qualities is a key idea in reading the book. The idealism, effectiveness, super intelligence, self-sacrifice, diplomatic skills, persuasiveness, and determination of Paul Farmer can too easily become the focus of the reader, and can prevent focus on Farmer and his associates' actual goals.

When I initially heard of this book, I was reluctant to read it because I expected a sort of myth-making hero worship. It's much broader than I expected, with many well-presented themes. It particularly discusses the rise of drug-resistant TB and struggles against it, the plight of the poor in Haiti and tendency of many people to turn their backs on them, similar reactions to extreme problems in other areas of the world, and bureaucratic tendencies to make big mistakes because they rigidly avoid correcting small mistakes. I think the challenge of the book is to see all the themes, not just the one illuminating figure of Paul Farmer, remarkable though he is.

I'm looking forward to discussing the book at the next meeting of my book club.

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