Bookishness, Real Medicine

Book Review: Whisper Not

Readers of this blog might remember that I went to my first ever book fair last year. My first purchase that day was a book called Whisper Not: 15 Africans speak out on life and love beyond HIV (Mpongo et al), which some of the authors graciously signed for me.

It took me a while to start on the reading, but when I did, I really had high hopes for this book, which is what makes the review so difficult.

So let’s get the bad stuff out of the way: I got stuck for a long time – the content of these stories are inspiring, but I felt that the editing was poorly done. There must have been some editing, because somehow individual voices got lost. Somehow, the unique tone each person is meant to have, disappeared, and it almost sounds like one person is telling 15 stories – which is a pity, because those individual voices were what I wanted to hear. But the editing also lacked the ability to convey South African language, and the errors in sentence structure and – horror of horrors, translation! – was distracting.

I think when you get fifteen courageous people together to share their stories, you owe them good editing… but I also recognise that this non-profit organisation probably did not have all the resources to get an expert editor. My problem was that at times it felt like I was reading transcribed speeches, and speeches are very often for hearing, not for reading; and at other times stories felt like extended CVs.

So if you’re reading for fun, this is not the book I recommend.

The good stuff: fifteen incredibly diverse Africans share their stories. Many of them are HIV-positive, while others are caretakers of people living with HIV. They are all involved in HIV-work in some way or another and their stories are as diverse as the authors – those who grew up in poverty and those who did not, straight and gay, healthcare workers and struggling artists, South Africans and foreigners, stories of tragedy and storybook romances.

Whisper Not can be an incredible asset to any doctor’s waiting area. I really think that wherever I work one day, I’ll have one of these books in the waiting areas. There is a story that will appeal to every kind of patient, and can go miles in fostering better understanding among people.

So while I perhaps did not love this book as much as I had hoped, I don’t think it is a waste of printing paper. It definitely has a place in the world of HIV-education, and especially in inspiring people with HIV and their loved ones.

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