I decided that I should read this book as it kept popping up on book club reading lists and I'm so glad that I did. Don't be put off by the length as it is 534 pages long. It's well worth the effort.
The first third of the book follows the journey of two people, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a young Carmelite nun and nurse, who sets out from India to further her medical knowledge in Yemen. On the sea voyage there, she nurses British surgeon Thomas Stone, a fellow traveller on his way to Mission Hospital in Ethiopia, who has fallen victim to chronic seasickness. This meeting is to change both their lives, as they end up as a close team working together at the hospital. The first third of the novel culminates with a shock – Sister Mary Joseph Praise is pregnant and about to give birth but complications leave her twin sons without a mother. Abandoned by a grief stricken Thomas Stone who all believe to be their father, Marian and Shiva are brought up by Hema, the obstetrician and gynaecologist who delivered them and Ghosh, a doctor at the Hospital who marries Hema.
This book has many facets. It is a story about people who are trying to change the medical outcomes in a third world country, as Hema and Ghosh become experts in their fields and treat the locals under difficult circumstances. It is a story to make us open our eyes to the way a large part of the world’s population lives - the lack of resources in the hospital, the reliance on aid, the common occurrence of preventable diseases and injuries.
It is a story about a country in turmoil as Ethiopia’s people grow unhappy with the divide between those in power and the rest of the population which is just trying to survive. This theme is revisited when Marian has to flee to America, where he works as a doctor at a hospital in the Bronx in New York where most doctors are recruited from overseas countries. The story highlights that even in a developed country there is a divide between those living in the poor parts of the country whose hospitals are under resourced, and those with the money to pay who receive care from American trained doctors in well-equipped hospitals with prestigious reputations.
But most of all, it is a story of love – the love between unlikely people, the love between parents and their children, the love between the brothers Marian and Shiva, and the destructive love of Marian and Genet, their housekeeper’s daughter, and the love for their country as Genet gets caught up in Ethiopia's quest for freedom from tyranny putting everyone she knows at risk.
I loved this book and am so glad that I finally got around to reading it. If you like books in the style of “The Kite Runner”, for example, I’m sure you’ll like this one. Definitely one for the book club reading list.