Paul Farmer is one of the heroes of the modern medical world. A man of boundless energy, he started his Haitian medical clinic while in medical school (flying back and forth between Boston and Haiti).
Over time the work expanded and Farmer has become known as much for his work with AIDS and TB in Peru and Russia as his original work as a doctor in Haiti.
The early parts of the book read almost like Hagiography because of the author’s, Tracy Kidder, devotion to Farmer. But this was not a short term relationship between Farmer and Kidder. Kidder knew Farmer for over a decade when he wrote the book and they spent a lot of time together.
So Kidder is a character in the book and the later parts of the book where he is writing about things he directly observed are better written, more balanced and nuanced.
While Farmer is a Christian and clearly has a Christian motivation for his work, Kidder isn’t writing this as a Christian missionary book. So it is an interesting comparison with books like David Platt’s Radical. Farmer is every bit (and probably more) radical in his expression of Christianity as Platt and many others of the new radical movement. But at the same time I think Farmer would understand and support Matthew Anderson’s critique of that style of Christian racialism.
I keep reading books like this one in light of Matt Redmond’s God of the Mundane. There is one point where a large supporter of Farmer’s considers selling his business and moving to Haiti to help with the medical work there. But Farmer tells him to stay where he is at, because he does more good doing what he is doing (I am inserting the concept of following God’ call here, but I don’t think that is inappropriate) while Farmer follows his own calling.
I think book like this one are important. Not as the sole reading and understanding of how to deal with poverty in the world. But because as Christians living in a world of western wealth it is possible to forget the reality that many others in the world live in. So we should be working to end world wide poverty, bring basic health care to the world, encourage our government to give aid in ways that do better.
But I also read books like this and I am joyful because I live in comfort, my daughter will be born with proper medical care. I will never worry about being hungry. The balance of gratitude for our own comfort (based mostly because of our place of birth not our own skill) and the limits of what really can be done and the desire to serve God in alleviating the suffering of others is tough.
I am glad there are Christians like Farmer (although he is not a conservative evangelical by any means). His story does encourage me to do what I should be doing to fulfill my own calling.
I borrowed the audiobook of this from the library. The library version was not well cut and even though it was a digital download it has the original cassette tape notifications still in it. Which is odd since the book was written in 2006 and cassette tapes would have been obsolete before that.