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My Own Country: A Doctor's Story (1994)

por Abraham Verghese

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1,0912818,723 (4.21)128
A young doctor of eastern Tennessee describes the town's first introduction to the AIDS virus, which preceded a disturbing epidemic and introduced the doctor to many unique people.
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3.5 stars

Verghese is an infectious diseases doctor and tells of treating HIV/AIDS patients in rural Tennessee in the mid-late 1980s, when AIDS was seen as a "big city" disease. There were several things I didn't like about this book, but I think why I enjoyed it overall is simply because I learned a lot about AIDS (for instance, I never knew that AIDS dementia was a thing or that AIDS can cause blindness) and I really like learning!

I enjoyed hearing the stories of his various patients - how they came to acquire HIV and how they dealt with it. There were so many patients mentioned, however, that some of them began to run together.

I also enjoyed reading about his marriage - he and his wife went on three dates before he proposed and they asked their parents to arrange their marriage. They clearly didn't know each other well, or even try to, and didn't seem to particularly like each other. I was really hoping they would improve their communication and work things out, but this storyline never really goes anywhere in the book. (Google has confirmed that they opted to end their marriage. Sad.)

It's fairly impossible to read a memoir and not take into account the author's tone and personality. On that note, Verghese struck me as selfish and self-righteous. He portrays himself as an outsider and even a martyr, of sorts - he laments about being Indian among white people, Ethiopian-born among Indians, an AIDS doctor among other professionals who are in more estimable practices (according to society and their salaries). He complains that his wife doesn't understand his draw to work with AIDS patients and doesn't approve (though, as I said, he doesn't seem to know her very well). He actually says at one point that he views himself as non-judgmental, and he's clearly very proud of the fact that he can see beyond an HIV diagnosis to view a full person; while it's great that he doesn't pass judgment on his patients, he spends an awful lot of time judging everyone else. He jumped to a lot of conclusions about others' thoughts and opinions, which he had no way of knowing.

A few other points:
- There's quite a bit of profanity, including God's name taken in vain.
- Due to the nature of the book, it's not much of a surprise that there are a lot of sexual references (some stories go into more detail than necessary).
- A glossary defining some of the medical terms and Indian words he used (or at least explaining them when they appear) would have been helpful.
- There's a lot of detail of geography and medical procedures that could get tedious for anyone who doesn't really enjoy reading.

So overall, I liked this, but it would take a special person for me to recommend it to. ( )
  RachelRachelRachel | Nov 21, 2023 |
I loved Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone and found this non-fiction description of his experiences as an infectious disease doctor in a small town during the dawn of the AIDS crisis fascinating. ( )
  chasidar | Jun 9, 2019 |
I lot of folks I know avoid nonfiction books like the plague. I suspect they read one too many dry history books in school and think all nonfiction is BORING. To that I always offer that they try a better class of book to read. Then, this particular nonfiction book comes along. Well, came along is more accurate. Written in the early 90s about the HIV/AIDS explosion during the 80s, this is a memoir of a particular doctor, the author, born in India, raised in Ethiopia, trained in big city American medicine, but now working in rural and small town Tennessee on a task that, at the time, scared folks nearly to death. One could certainly read this book as a so-called AIDS book, for that it certainly is. And yet, one of my very first thoughts as I started reading this is that this much more like reading To Kill a Mockingbird than some stuffy history book. Without any pretentiousness to his style, the author draws us intimately into his new community. Whether it's his nurses or his car mechanic, his fellow Indian American neighbors or his local tennis partner, everyone he introduces us to is accepted for who and what they are, without judgment, and we like him for it, just as his community of neighbors and co-workers and patients do, also. Indeed, the best, the most compelling parts of this book are the conversations that the doctor/author has with a number of his patients and their family. The degree of personal interaction is astounding. While the reader who has not been previously introduced to the disease up close and personally will have plenty to confront, the book is really about our humanity and how we struggle with it and how we share it with others in our own very separate ways. It's almost beside the point that this book is about AIDS. On those occasions when I have asked my wife what her favorite books are, this book was always mentioned. She first read it back when it first was released. For me, I can say without hesitation that no other book I have ever read has brought tears to my eyes so spontaneously and so often. And yet, I don't think it's because it is often sad, which it clearly is. I think it's because it represents the best in our ability to be truly human, a choice we are all too willing to bypass. I don't know if I would have felt this way if it had been one of my first introductions to a devastating disease. It wasn't, and I'm very glad I was able to see all the way into the book's beauty without distraction. ( )
  larryerick | Apr 26, 2018 |
Well-written, highly readable medical and personal memoir by an infectious disease specialist who became the primary care physician for AIDS patients in a rural Tennessee community just as the disease was starting to make itself known in that culture. Compassionate and informative.
Review written March 2009 ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Apr 10, 2017 |
Dr. Verghese writes movingly about his early work with HIV and AIDS patients, mostly in the early to mid 1980s, the years of discovery and fear and unscreened blood supplies. He moved his family to a small town in Tennessee and, although he doubted it, he fit in well there and people loved and admired him. The work was grueling and stigmatizing, keeping him from his family a good deal of the time. This is the story of some of Dr. Verghese's patients and the life-changing effects they had on him. It's also the story of a kind, wise, thoughtful and committed doctor who turned no one away at a time when everyone was turning them away. It's the story of the early HIV epidemic and how it arrived in small towns. Innocent people contracted this virus through blood transfusions, and it's their story as well.

If you don't know much about HIV, the book is educational. If you have HIV or know much about it, the story may resonate with you and you'll wish Dr. Verghese was your doctor, willing to also be your friend during the worst of times. ( )
  Rascalstar | Jan 21, 2017 |
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A young doctor of eastern Tennessee describes the town's first introduction to the AIDS virus, which preceded a disturbing epidemic and introduced the doctor to many unique people.

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