January 04, 2013

Our Kind of People by Uzodinma Iweala

I've read "Beasts of No Nation" and thought it was a good, insightful book.  So when I saw this book by the same author, and saw that it dealt with another hard topic, I decided to give it a try.  And I thought the message he was trying to put out there was worthy, certainly viewing AIDS/HIV in a different way than it is commonly perceived is a good thing, but I'm not sure if he pulled it off successfully.

In this nonfiction, Iweala travels back and forth between the United States and his family's native country of Nigeria.  Most of this book takes place in Nigeria and centers around the HIV positive people he meets and interviews.  It tells the perception of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, by the people who have it, people who don't, and just the overall thoughts of the disease.  It also goes a little bit into the different treatments available that makes this disease no longer have a fatal end and also the different campaigns in Nigeria to try to stop the rampant spread of AIDS/HIV.

I thought he was very fair to the people he described in this book.  He told it in a "voice" that seemed authentic and like the stories were actually from the people themselves rather than him completely paraphrasing it.  So in that regards the people here are very real and Iweala is able to tell stories that wouldn't normally be told.  For himself, he is merely the narrator and while he mentions certain things that relate to him and his family, he doesn't really go into why this topic is so important to him other than having worked in that area in medical school.  I guess it would have been nice to really get a feel for why he is so passionate about the subject.

The actual stories from the people he talks to are compelling.  And they are the best part of this book.  Unfortunately though, they are spaced in such a way and included in with so much other information, that reading this book is somewhat exhausting.  It's like holding your breath for a long time while running and then struggling to keep up when you become tired.  I think better spacers and a sense of focus would have helped this book.  The topic of AIDS/HIV is a hard one to write about as there are so many rumors and falsehoods that Iweala is correct in saying that people with HIV are perceived as different or even bad.  But unlike Iweala, I disagree that this focus is on Africans primarily.  I think that a bad stigma is placed on anyone with this disease, regardless of where they live in the world or their access to medicine.  And that it's just as harsh here as it is there.  And while people who aren't promiscuous or share needles get this disease, it shouldn't be ignored that risky behaviors increase the risk of getting the disease.  It's not a cultural problem but rather a personal one as each individual contracts the disease for a different reason.

It's a thought provoking book, and I'm glad that Iweala took the time to show us a look at people in Africa with AIDS/HIV and their perception of the disease.  You might not learn anything new about the disease from this book, but it does help someone relate to the people who have it and recognize that they are not any different from people who don't have it.  A little more focus and this could have been a very outstanding book.

Our Kind of People
Copyright 2012
217 pages

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