Updated: September 13, 2006 - Listen to the audio clip (3.5MB.MP3)
Beyond mountains there are mountains. So goes the Haitian proverb from which Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder drew the title of his book about a doctor dedicated to serving the poorest populations on earth. In Mountains Beyond Mountains Kidder tells the story of Paul Farmer, a Harvard-trained specialist in infectious disease so committed to his cause that he routinely sleeps just an hour or two a day and thinks nothing of trekking several mountainous miles to make sure that one of his TB patients has an adequate supply of medicine. The title aptly describes the magnitude of Farmer's challenge as well as his determination to make a difference.
Kidder first encountered Farmer in Haiti in 1994 when he was writing about American soldiers helping to reinstate Haiti's democratically elected government. After persuading Farmer to become the subject of a book, Kidder traveled with him for the next several years on numerous trips to Haiti, Russia, Peru, Cuba, and other places where Farmer's work takes him. "The thing about travel with Farmer is that you don't visit the brochure sights. His itinerary is pretty much restricted to visiting hospitals, slums, and prisons. The dreadful places of the world," said Kidder in an interview with Book Browse. "But the trips weren't dreary and depressing, because Farmer and his colleagues were doing something tangible, something meaningful, something that was actually improving those places." Kidder also spent time with Farmer in Boston, where he teaches at Harvard Medical School and works at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Mountains Beyond Mountains has been chosen as this year's common reading for Mount Holyoke's incoming class of 2010. Since 2000, the first-year class has participated in the common reading as part of the orientation program for new students. This fall, as in other years, the book will be the subject of student and faculty discussions, and the author will speak on campus.
Dean of the College and philosophy professor Lee Bowie, who helped choose this year's book, commented on the selection: "We chose Mountains Beyond Mountains because it is exciting on so many different levels. First, Paul Farmer and his work are so much in the spirit of Mount Holyoke, which from its founding has emphasized the value of applying knowledge to service in the world. Second, Farmer's attitude toward his mission raises important questions for students beginning to construct their lives. How much do I expect of myself? Must I give all so long as there are people in the world worse off than I am? If not, what justifies giving less? Third, it raises important questions about the distribution of scarce resources, for example, health care. Should Farmer apply whatever is needed to cure his immediate patient, when those resources could heal ten others who are less sick? Finally, the book is filled with wonderful and interesting characters, including its author, Tracy Kidder, who are worth meeting and thinking about."
Previous common readings have included Ruth L. Ozeki's My Year of Meats (2005), Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (2004), and Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible (2003).
Tracy Kidder will speak on September 7 at 7:30 pm in Gamble Auditorium. A faculty panel will discuss the book with students on September 14 at 7:30 pm in Gamble Auditorium.