Just when you think you’re beginning to understand Paul Farmer, he’ll say something that throws you off balance. In Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World (Random House, 2003), author Tracy Kidder paints a finely-drawn portrait of a renowned medical doctor and anthropologist. Farmer is a complex hero, battling against forces of the status quo in the complex arena of tuberculosis and HIV/Aids.
Like Paul Farmer himself, the book is always on the move. From Lima, Peru to Moscow, Russia and many places in-between, by the end of the book, the reader feels entitled to some of Farmer’s frequent flyer miles. But if the journey is wide-ranging, the narrative always returns home to Haiti, the dusty village of Cange on the central plateau. It was there in the late ’80s that Farmer – not yet out of medical school – began Zanmi Lasante, a clinic that would grow into a full-fledged hospital, focusing on the treatment and cure of tuberculosis. An astounding 25% of Haitians die before the age of forty. As a Roman Catholic who espouses liberation theology, Farmer sees in Matthew 25 (Parable of the Sheep and Goats) a rousing call to prefer the poor as a way to bring greater health care equality between countries.