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Blood:Water Book Club: “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” Section 1



Today, we review Part I, “Dokte Paul,” and Part II, “The Tin Roofs of Cange,” of this month’s selection, “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” by Tracy Kidder.


The undeniable theme that weighs heavily throughout the first two parts of “Mountains Beyond Mountains” is Dr. Paul Farmer determinedly suffering through the long defeat in Haiti. We are introduced to Farmer and his compassion as a doctor and anthropologist in Part I through the eyes of our narrator and author, Tracy Kidder, who finds that one thing is certain–Farmer believes in his calling as a healer for the sick, and takes meticulous care of every patient he meets.

Kidder identifies Farmer’s upbringing as the main determinate of his character, and an early trip to Haiti as an undergraduate at Duke for forever impacting his calling as a doctor. It was this visit that placed in motion Farmer’s battle against the long defeat. While Farmer “narrates Haiti” to Kidder, the reader is given a glimpse into everything that the Harvard graduate and professor has seen and worked toward in Haiti.

Through political unrest, war, extreme poverty, and disease such as AIDS and tuberculosis, Farmer dedicates his entire life to bringing medical care and justice to the Haitian people. So much so that he forsakes any opportunity of love and time with family to spend every second he can, doing absolutely everything he can for the country.

Faith is mentioned many times–we see Farmer find his belief in God, and his life is often compared to that of a priest’s. His dedication to eradicating poverty in Haiti often requires him to question American “aid” and risk his life standing up against the junta, a corrupt and violent branch of Haitian government.

Throughout Parts I and II, Farmer refuses to deem impossible changing the lives of the poor in Haiti and around the world. Despite being threatened by the junta, being refused entry into the country, and ultimately coming back to Haiti to find all of the programs he set in place suspended, Farmer still did not give into the long defeat.


The long defeat

Powerful Lines

  • The world is full of miserable places. One way of living comfortably is not to think about them or, when you do, to send money. (4)
  • “She’s crying, ‘It hurts, I’m hungry.’ Can you believe it? Only in Haiti would a child cry out that she’s hungry during a spinal tap.” (Paul Farmer, 32)
  • Giving people medicine for TB and not giving them food is like washing your hands and drying them in the dirt. (Haitian proverb, 34)
  • Clean water and health care and school and food and tin roofs and cement floors, all of these things should constitute a set of basics that people must have as birthrights. (Paul Farmer, 91)

Questions to Ponder

  1. How does Dr. Paul Farmer’s beliefs align with “When Helping Hurts?”
  2. Do you think Dr. Farmer’s way of life is that of a martyr or one that everyone should imitate?

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