Mountains Beyond Mountains:  The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World
Author: Tracy Kidder
Publishing Year: 2003

The five-part book traces the life of Dr. Paul Farmer – an eminent expert in public health. He is an anthropologist, a graduate of Harvard Medical School who holds Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at his alma mater. Farmer is also known as co-founder of Partners in Health (PIH), an international non-profit organization that provides direct health care services and undertakes research and advocacy activities on behalf of those who are sick and living in poverty. Not to mention being the recipient of numerous awards and affiliations such as acting as special consultant to United Nations, people hold Dr. Farmer in high esteem for his tireless work to improve public health and fight for lives in the most extreme places that most of us would try not to think about.

Mountains Beyond Mountains sketches a spectacular sunset that is juxtaposed by the the ragged clothing and the looks on the faces of malnourished children and the extended hands of elderly beggars. Poverty and disease, typically HIV and tuberculosis, have been rampant in Haiti; the poorest country in the West Indies for the past 20 to 30 years ago while Dr. Farmer’s hospital was a heavenly green oasis that took care of a million patients for virtually free or at minimal cost. Kidder – the author who is a veteran journalist, followed Dr. Farmer as he worked at the hospital in Haiti from dawn to dusk, from the moment he started his working day by walking hills to hills around the hospital to care for patients until midnight when he wrote applications for fundraising and prepared speeches under the hazy lights. Kidder also accompanied Dr. Farmer to Cuba, Latin America and Russia as he wrote the book.

Dealing with extreme poverty and epidemics seems so helplessly macroscopic that “…even the most caring doctors from abroad would ultimately return home, turning their back on the suffering that would not abate”. But Farmer decided to build and commit himself to a hospital in the charming antique city called Zanmi Lasante. There he worked tirelessly and often found himself unable to sleep thinking of his untreated patients.

Others might think he was sacrificing his career to cure the Haitians for free. He once confessed to Kidder: “I feel ambivalent about selling my services in a world where some can’t buy them. You can feel ambivalent about that, because you should feel ambivalent”.

Kidder opens a window for us to witness the embodiment of devotion, sacrifice, and enthusiasm as Dr. Farmer carried himself the duty of a doctor for those underserved. Each chapter leaves you questioning fundamental/key issues in development. It’s either effectiveness in public health projects or the neglect that costs lives and livelihoods of poor peasants living upstream behind a hydrodam construction, which was part of the development project from developed countries.

More valuably, Dr. Farmer holds the specialization in anthropology and public health, this combination brings up interesting discussions on the relationship between social factors and public health, typically whether religious belief has an effect on the treatment.

In short, the book captures the live of a true hero dedicated to development field which is richly dramatic, fascinating, and inspirational. In the inspiring words of Dr Farmer: “Medical education does not exist to provide students with a fishing rod, but to ensure the health of the community”, perhaps you find yourself the encouragement to lean in…