I was assigned this book for a Dedman College Scholars discussion. It would be hard for me to be more disappointed with the choice. Tracy Kidder, who narrates the story first hand (constantly finding reasons to insert his own insecurities), chronicles the life of Paul Farmer, an admittedly brilliant anthropologist and doctor. Throughout the novel Farmer is romanticized to the extreme. The reader is nudged to overlook Farmer’s multi-thousand dollar thefts, to shrug off his constant shouting matches with people who are trying to help him, and to disregard his blatant misuse of funds, because what really matters is he’s trying his hardest.
Additionally, women are consistently described by their level of physical attractiveness and then forgotten; one woman is only of interest while she is Farmer’s beautiful British lover, but when she turns down Farmer’s proposal (he wasn’t spending any time with her unless she followed him around) and becomes president of the charitable foundation Farmer works for (essentially making all of Farmer’s work possible) she fades into the background. In the same objectifying vein, poor people, especially very sick ones, are described in such excruciating detail throughout the book that at times I wondered if half the novel would just be blatant poverty porn.
This book tells the story of a well meaning man, yes, but the fact that a white man means well does not excuse the entirety of his actions, nor does it give biographers a license to turn him into an infallible god. Reading this book was a sad reminder that we have not learned our lesson about men who mean well.