Monday, April 19, 2010

Book #53: My Own Country

Title: My Own Country: A Doctor's Story
Author: Abraham Verghese

Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone was one of the best books I read last year. I'm not sure if it was my very favorite, but it was in the top two or three, for sure.

Although Cutting for Stone was fiction, My Own Country is a memoir, focusing on the years when Verghese, born in Africa to Indian parents, is a young infectious diseases doctor in rural Eastern Tennessee, right at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. As one of the only physicians in the area willing and able to take care of the men and women suffering from the disease, Verghese becomes almost like part of their families as he nurses them to their deaths.

This may sound cheesy, but Abraham Verghese has a gift. As I read the Whitney books, I read a lot of good, solid books by good, solid writers. But when I read for my own pleasure, I tend to read mostly what others have recommended as the best of the best. As a general rule, the quality of the writing in the things I normally read is a degree higher than the quality of what I read in the month of March. Abraham Verghese's writing definitely falls on the highest end of my spectrum, even when that spectrum is comprised many of the good stuff. I know that lots of writers (and I'm sure Verghese would include himself in this group) become good by working hard and revising and thinking and putting in sweat equity. But there's just something about the way he writes that makes me want more. In fact, I just ordered his other memoir.

Another thing I thing I thought was interesting about My Own Country is the way that Verghese treats his relationship with his wife Rajani. During the years that the book takes place, he and Rajani go from being happily married to realizing that their marriage has problems. By the time the memoir was published, the couple was divorced. So I think it's interesting for him to write about some of the good years of their marriage (both of their sons are born during the Tennessee years) from the perspective of someone who is newly divorced. Although I don't think he shrinks from his role in the collapse of the marriage, he also doesn't portray Rajani as the "and she never complained" kind of self-sacrificing spouse that people like doctors and bishops are supposed to have.

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