My Old Man and the Sea: A Father and Son Sail Around Cape Horn, and: My Own Country: A Doctor's Story of a Town and Its People in the Age of AIDS (review)
- Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction
- Michigan State University Press
- Volume 2, Number 1, Spring 2000
- pp. 227-228
- Additional Information
- Purchase/rental options available:
Reviews Reader-to-Reader: Capsule Reviews Mimi Schwartz This column invites readers to share their favorite nonfiction books in print. Memoirs, travel writing, nature writing, essay coUections, biography , adventure stories—aU are welcome here as mini-reviews of new books and old favorites that are stiU avaüable. Our aim is to keep the best of nonfiction alive in a reader-to-reader kind ofway. Lynn Powell Here are two books that celebrate what it means to be human in the face of something large and inhuman: in one book, the violence of the southern ocean; in the other, the vast wasteland ofAIDS. And in their own ways, each is a story about the hardjourney oflove, which as David Hays says, is "the greatest adventure of aU." My Old Man and the Sea:A Father and Son SailAround Cape Horn, by David Hays and Daniel Hays. Harper Perennial, 1996. 223 pages, paper, $13.00. David Hays and his son Daniel spent two years building and perfecting their own boat to saü from their home in Connecticut, through the Panama Canal, past the Galapagos Islands and Easter Island, around Cape Horn, and back home. On their smaU, snug Sparrow, they keep journals, read Proust, cheat at cards, make sloppy omelettes, open Chanukah presents, battle Force 10 winds and mammoth seas, and confront their own mortaUty and their fierce love for each other. By turns they squabble and worry and celebrate and cry. But mostly they work together side by side in a way that, in the 227 228Fourth Genre book's last pages, suddenly brought tears to my eyes. This is an unusuaUy reflective, unsentimental, and self-effacing adventure story, where the heroism is mosdy about learning how to love. And the writing is a pleasure— clear, funny, and touching. It's a book that makes one admire consummate craftsmanship and helps a cautious person Uke me re-caUbrate what I think is possible for myself. (NotThe Horn perhaps, but certainly a Utde more than I had imagined before!) My Own Country: A Doctor's Story of a Town and Its People in the Age ofAIDS, by AbrahamVerghese. Vintage, 1995 reprint. 432 pages, paper, $14.00. Abraham Verghese is a physician from India who came to the United States for a residency in infectious diseases, then stayed on to take a position in a teaching hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee. Verghese arrived in East Tennessee in the mid-80s,just as AIDS was arriving from NewYork and San Francisco. Most people had imagined that places "in the boondocks" were safe provinces, immune from the disease that was ravaging those capitals of Sin. At the beginning of the book,Verghese is the only physician trained to deal with AIDS in the area, and one of the few wilUng to treat AIDS patients. Within a couple ofyears his practice has become crushingly large. Verghese's account of his patients reads like a novel—it's a sympathetic account ofthe young gay men who've come home from the city to die; the church deacon who has been infected by a blood transfusion; the truckers who have contracted the virus in random truckstop encounters; and the bewflderment, judgment, heartbreak, and compassion of the famflies and community members who must come to terms with their own prejudices and fears. Beneath the narrative of his and his patients' Uves is a probing reflection on what it means to be an outsider. Like his patients who are outsiders because they are infected with AIDS, because they are gay, or both,Verghese is an outsider because he is a dark-skinned foreigner. Born and raised in East Tennessee, I can testify that Verghese has given an astonishingly insightful portrait of my own country. But he has also given a memorable and moving portrait ofa country I, thankfrdly, have not thus far had to Unger in: the stark continent ofAIDS. ...