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Sizwe's Test: A Young Man's Journey Through Africa's AIDS Epidemic Reprint Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1416552703
ISBN-10: 1416552707
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Award-winning South African journalist Steinberg, a gay white man, conceived this book to understand the AIDS crisis in his country and, to a limited degree, in himself: though HIV testing and treatment are readily accessible, he wondered, why did so many abstain? Steinberg journeys to the poor black village of Ithanga, where antiretrovirals (ARVs) are available, but electricity and running water are not. He examines the disease through the pseudonymous Sizwe Magadla, a 30-year-old shopkeeper who has resisted testing. Sizwe becomes Steinberg's interpreter and explains the village's traditional health-care system in which witchcraft thrives and Western medical missionaries challenge healers and herbalists. Steinberg traces Sizwe's growing awareness of the myths and realities of the three letters—one persistent belief, that whites created and deployed HIV as a means to regain power, echoes the legacy of apartheid still overshadowing the country—and his attempts to reconcile cultural beliefs with increasingly unassailable medical facts. Steinberg becomes intertwined with his subject, but balances critical distance and compassion with gleanings from his own psychological barriers to HIV testing that further deepen the concern and understanding he accords to Sizwe's story. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Journalist Steinberg wonders how, in a rapidly evolving socioeconomic situation such as South Africa’s, it is possible to record more than a thousand new HIV infections per day. He notes that, despite the best efforts of government and the international organization Médecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, or Doctors without Borders), one in eight South Africans has AIDS. Where, he asks, is the disconnect? Why aren’t more South Africans taking advantage of the medical resources available to them? Are there, indeed, enough resources to go around? To answer those and further questions, Steinberg embedded himself in a small village in the rural district of Lusikisiki in Eastern Cape Province and shadowed a young man, a shop owner named Sizwe. The resulting profile of him, his family, friends, and the local MSF facility is a real eye-opener. Besides a portrait of what life is like for the people negotiating this transitional period, Steinberg offers a candid glimpse into Sizwe’s private thoughts and fears, which likely mirror those of many of his countrymen. --Donna Chavez --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (October 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416552707
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416552703
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #174,998 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book is a must read for anyone interested in HIV in Africa or South African politics more generally. In following Sizwe through his decision of whether or not to get tested for HIV, it eloquently weaves together the main character's personal life and decision with the cultural, social, and political context that shapes his decision. For many people, it is utterly inconceivable why this disease has so devastated South Africa, and in particular, why a person might choose not to get tested, even now that effective treatment exists. This book goes a long way towards explaining that. It also provides an excellent, very readable narrative about rural life in South Africa--a story that is often overlooked--and about politics all the way from the President down to the local health clinician. Steinberg mixes the self-awareness of the modern ethnographer with the prose of a top-notch journalist.

I really disagree with the reviewer who says that the book is moralistic and pro-apartheid. First of all, re: the title--this is not the original title of the book, it's the unfortunate choice of the American publisher. The original title (for the South African edition) is "Three Letter Plague," which indeed has a less moralistic connotation. I did not perceive the author to be judging the main character at all--in fact, quite the opposite. Regarding Steinberg's portrayal of post-apartheid majority rule in South Africa, yes, the author accurately depicts Mbeki's (as well as Mandela's) total failure to understand HIV and develop an adequate policy on it. In Mandela's case, he is sympathetic--new, unexpected challenge, amongst many many things needing reform.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Jonny Steinberg clearly and humanely presents the dilemma facing Sizwe, one of thousands of South Africans who face what Westerners regard as the essential HIV test.

Partly in response to the South African government's inaction and dismissal of the pandemic of HIV and AIDS, Medecins Sans Frontiers establishes a program to educate villagers about HIV and to disseminate ARVs. Testing seems an obvious choice to Jonny and Dr. Hermann Reuter (of MSF): If Sizwe takes the test and has positive results, he will be prescribed ARVs that will keep him healthy and able to support his family.

But Sizwe fears his village's reaction. A positive HIV result brings disdain: he's witnessed it himself when others have tested. Everyone knows that those who don't emerge quickly after receiving their results are being counseled so they can deal with their illness.

If Sizwe tests positive, it's likely that he'll lose the clientele he's built up for his shop. He also knows that if he dies, his family will seize his hard-won earnings instead of taking care of his young son.

There are also fears that westerners have discovered a cure for AIDS and are deliberately holding it back from Africans. If this seems far-fetched, think of how many conspiracy theories are churning around the internet, from Princess Diana's death to speculations about 9/11.

Having worked in Kenya, I can attest to the deep divide between accepting western medicine and traditional reliance on the herb doctors. Chinua Achebe captures a similar this division (over religion) in The River Between.

Jonny Steinberg discusses this Sizwe's vacillation (he wants to test but he daren't) with great sensitivity, compassion, and intelligence.
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Format: Hardcover
The fundamental question that Mr Steinberg wrestles with is why people may choose not to take drugs that may preempt death. His honesty, sensitivity and tenacity enable him to explore the dynamics of a rural South African community in a way that I've not encountered. And yes, the man can write.
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Format: Hardcover
So much more than a book about AIDS. This is a nuanced, personal, revealing account of one man (Sizwe), his interlocutor (Jonny) and a doctor who figures out how best to deliver services to HIV+ people in the countryside. It examines personalities and policies with equal depth and wisdom. There are no cartoon-character bad guys, just complicated situations, ignorance, bureaucracy, and a great deal of stigma. It is gracefully and thoughtfully written, never trite, seldom judgmental, and sharp as a new blade. I, however, will be trite: "If you read only one book on AIDS in sub-saharan Africa, this is a great choice."
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Format: Paperback
I am a great fan of Jonny Steinberg and have read all his books. He tries and succeeds in giving the reader an insight into the lives and thoughts of his subjects while continiously being aware of his role and position in the narrative. He opens worlds which were previously closed to outsiders and treats his subjects with respect and compassion. All his books are highly recommended for anyone trying to understand Africa and specifically South Africa and it's people.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was better than I thought. I had to read this for a medical anthropology class. This book was kind of a mystery as well as a personal account. The ending leaves you shocked. I would recommend this book.
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