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There Is No Me Without You: One Woman's Odyssey to Rescue Her Country's Children Paperback – September 4, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Lawrence's sincere and emphatic rendering of Greene's words only add to the hopeful yet solemn tone throughout this tale of Haregewoin Teferra, a woman who turned her compound into a home for children with or orphaned by AIDS. Greene keenly connects the broad histories of African colonization, Ethiopia's political changes and AIDS with the personal lives of Ethiopians and most AIDS victims in the Third World. She covers a wide range of topics including profiles of the many children who come to stay with Teferra, contemporary debates about the origin of AIDS and the social effect AIDS has on Ethiopia in terms of production and stability. With so many avenues, some narrators might become inconsistent or incapable of handling redirection, but Lawrence fluctuates her voice according to the need of the text. Lawrence segues unhesitatingly whether using a more reserved and tempered voice for the historical insertions, emphasizing particular words in a definition or relaying a bemusing story about a child. Music at the end of each CD prepares listeners for the change, but it's Lawrence who creates the mood and atmosphere.
Copyright© American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
The horrific numbers behind the AIDS pandemic in Africa, "the most terrible epidemic in human history," have little resonance for most people in the West: "the ridiculous numbers wash over most of us." But this searing account humanizes the statistics through heartbreaking, intimate stories of what it is like for young orphans left alone in Ethiopia. Greene's story focuses on one rescuer, Haregewoin Teferra, who has opened her home and compound in a rickety hillside neighborhood of Addis Ababa and taken in hundreds of the untouchables thrown in the streets and left at her door. She cannot turn them away. Yes, the comparisons with Mother Teresa are there, but this is no hagiography; the middle-aged Teferra is "just an average person with a little more heart." Greene tells the stories in unforgettable vignettes of loss, secrecy, panic, stigma, and, sometimes, hope, even as she documents the big picture of "the human landslide," the history and science of epidemiology and transmission, and expresses her fury at the "crimes against humanity" of the multinational drug companies whose expensive patents have denied millions access to the life-saving medicines. Just as moving are the personal stories of international adoptions in the U. S., including two Ethiopian children taken into Greene's own Atlanta family. The detail of one lost child at a time, who finds love, laughter, comfort, and connection, opens up the universal meaning of family. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
There Is No Me Without You accomplishes a lot. It primarily tells the story of Haregewoin Teferra, a Christian Ethiopian woman who, in order to cope with the loss of her husband and eldest daughter, started a make-shift, grass-roots orphanage for stigmatized AIDS orphans in her hometown, Addis Ababa. Intertwined with Haregwoin's amazing story is a history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, its origins and impact. In telling the story, Melissa Fay Greene does so many things right. She resists deifying her subject, presenting Haregewoin's flaws alongside her virtues, which results in a nuanced, credible and moving profile. She also creates an imagery-rich picture of Addis Ababa in all its colorful, raucous and dusty splendor. I feel almost like I've been there after reading this book.
I only had two problems with the book--the first is a matter of craft and the second a matter of argumentation.
Greene writes with a lot of feeling, which is one of the many reasons this book is so engaging. But, in describing many scenes where she herself was not present, she steps into the role of a third-person omniscient narrator, often detailing with great flourish the thoughts and emotions of children in tragic situations. There were times when her writing felt a bit audacious, and I found myself asking, how can you claim to know what this child felt and thought as he was being ripped from his dying mother's arms? I'm sure she conducted extensive interviews with the children, but I did feel like she encroached inappropriately on their emotional landscapes at times, giving them thoughts and feelings that were, perhaps, not their own.
My second concern is regarding her argumentation.
In discussing the history of HIV/AIDS, she does not take a neutral stance. Her argument is very moral and often very persuasive. She rightly condemns the ignorance, indifference and greed of Western governments and pharmaceutical companies for the ways in which they stood back and watched, or looked away, while HIV spread rapidly in marginalized and third-world communities. She also condemns the religious, conservative moralizers and their insistence on prevention rather than treatment. She makes a few really good claims, and I appreciate what I learned from her. But, the problem with her argument in my eyes is this: in order to distance herself from people like Jerry Falwell who believe that God engineered HIV as a unique punishment for homosexuals (and who can blame her for wanting to do that?), she completely ignores the fact that so many of the suffering women and children she profiles contracted the virus because of the moral failings of men in their communities. Greene writes as though rape, sexual exploitation and marital infidelity are sad inevitabilities not worth discussing. Acknowledging these elephants in the room does not mean that we ignore treatment options for those already infected with HIV, and it does not mean we assume that everyone contracted the virus these ways. But, we can't ignore the gross gender inequality and violence against women and girls that is facilitating the spread of HIV in the third world, particularly Africa.
Just recently I read a BBC article that addressed the alarming HIV rate among girls in South Africa. The article states that "at least 28% of South African schoolgirls are HIV positive compared with 4% of boys because `sugar daddies' are exploiting them." 28%! Authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn explain the "sugar daddy" culture in their book Half the Sky: "In South Africa, successfully middle-aged men often keep young teenage girls as mistresses, and many teenagers see such `sugar daddies' as a ladder to a better life" (139).
Also discussed in Half the Sky is the pervasive culture of rape that plagues many African nations:
"In Darfur, it gradually became clear that the Sudanese-sponsored Janjaweed militias were seeking out and gang-raping women of three African tribes, cutting of their ears or otherwise mutilating them to mark them forever as rape victims...Sudan also blocked aid groups from bringing into Darfur postexposure prophylaxis kits, which can greatly reduce the risk that a rape victim will be infected with HIV" (83).
"Mass rapes have been reported at stunning levels in recent conflicts. Half of women in Sierra Leone endured sexual violence or the threat of it during the upheavals in that country, and a United Nations report claims that 90 percent of girls and women over the age of three were sexually abused in part of Liberia during the civil war there" (83).
Out of the Congo are numerous reports of rape being used as a tool of war.
And regarding HIV and marital infidelity: "Routinely in Africa and Asia, women stay safe until they are married, and then they contract AIDS from their husbands" (138).
There is a scene in There Is No Me Without You where the author listens to a man tell the story of his family, particularly the death of his wife. When the man alludes to the marital infidelity that infected him, and subsequently his wife, with HIV, Greene seems to pride herself in mentioning that none of the listeners, herself included, judged him at that moment. I'm not suggesting that he be scorned or spit upon, or treated meanly and without compassion. I'm not suggesting that he be left to think on his sins and languish in some trash-infested alley without treatment. I'm not suggesting that these problems are unique to Africa or even that we need to focus all of our attention on sexual ethics when it comes to the spread of HIV/AIDS. But, it does trouble me to consider the reality that if little white girls were being made into sexual baubles by older white men, and if white women were routinely contracting HIV from their unfaithful husbands, you wouldn't be able to hear yourself think over the cacophony of outrage. So, why is it that Greene, whose wrath burns against Western leaders and pharmaceutical companies, is incapable of arousing even a modicum of judgment for this poor man who brought ruin, even if inadvertently, to his entire family? Is it compassion and a spirit of equality that motivates her? Or is it a more subtle and insidious form of racism, the kind that, for fear of being politically-incorrect, refuses to view this man as a moral equal, a moral agent who was capable of being a better husband to his wife and a better father to his children, but chose not to? God help us if we continue to view rape, sexual exploitation and marital infidelity as sad inevitabilities, and God help us if we continue to view Africans as people who don't know any better.
What was most superb was how this story of this woman encompasses the strange turns lives can take. The Ethiopian woman, Haregewoin, didn't wake up one day and decide to open an orphanage. She was ready to effectively end her life due to grief over her daughter's death when a priest asked her to take care of one orphan, and that gave her a raison d'etre. This escalates into running a large orphanage and being pivotal in foreign adoptions. There are unexpected twists, even scandals, and an illustration of how no good deed goes unpunished. This story encapsulates the Internet's upside (intercontinental communication), and downside (misinformation spread so repetitively that it appears to be true). The most fascinating chapter was about Haregewoin's trip to the U.S. The most touching chapter was about an American couple taking their newly adopted two children to their birth village so they could see their grandfather before they left Ethiopia.
After reading this, I find myself trying to picture 10% of everyone I know dying of AIDS. And having seven-year old girls taking care of their younger siblings, and having our best hope be that someone from China or Nigeria will swoop in to take the children off the sinking ship. That's very hard to picture, but that's the scenario depicted by this book.