Literature Annotations


Verghese, Abraham
My Own Country: A Doctor's Story of a Town and Its People in the Age of AIDS


Genre Autobiography (347 pp.)
KeywordsAIDS, Cross-Cultural Issues, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Infectious Disease, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Issues, Physician Experience, Public Health
Summary

This extraordinary book is ostensibly "about" a doctor caring for persons with HIV/AIDS. That it is, but it is also a book containing multiple texts. It is a doctor's personal journey toward understanding the multiple meanings of HIV/AIDS for those who have it and those who care for them. It is the story of a physician, an Indian, born in Ethiopia to Christian expatriate teachers, in America since 1980, now in Johnson City, Tennessee, still trying to determine the meaning of "home."

It is, at the same time, a glorious pastoral account of practicing medicine in Tennessee--here making a house call to Vicki and Clyde, whose trailer is perched on the side of a mountain, now traveling through the Cumberland Gap to a cinder-block house to see Gordon, another native son who has come home to die. On still another level it is the story of a man trying to understand what it is like to be gay; a man trying to integrate his passion for his work with his life at home; a man trying to explain to his wife (and sadly, even some of his peers) his commitment to caring for persons infected with the virus.

The portraits Verghese draws of his patients are extraordinary: local boys now men, now sick, returning to Johnson City to be cared for by family; a woman infected by her husband who also infected her sister; a highly-respected couple from a nearby city seeking privacy, even from their grown children. Finally, part of what makes Verghese such a fine writer is that he is able to do so without romanticizing his relationships with his patients, and without self-congratulatory accolades for the kind of care he provides.

CommentaryVerghese left Tennessee and is now chief of infectious diseases at Texas Tech University. He is no physician dabbling in writing: he attended the Iowa Writer's Workshop, has contributed to the New Yorker and Granta, and reviews books for The New York Times. While not recommended, for those who must excerpt because of time constraints, the book is reasonably excerptable. For example, one chapter concerns a house call; another other illuminates some of the many complexities of dealing with the family of a person with AIDS, this one a gay man whose family's wishes supersede those of his longtime companion.
PublisherSimon & Schuster
Edition1994
Place PublishedNew York
Annotated by Wear, Delese
Date of Entry 12/09/94
Last Revised 01/08/07