Melissa Fay Greene, There Is No Me Without You: One Woman’s Odyssey to Rescue Africa’s Children (Bloomsbury 2006), 472 pp.
A guest review by Christine Keeling Taylor. Christine is a physician in the San Francisco Bay area who first came to the United States as a high school exchange student from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). She is married to an American, Curt Taylor, and has two teenage daughters. Her family is involved with ongoing ministry to AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe.
Set in Ethiopia, this remarkable work of journalist and novelist Melissa Fay Greene is an extraordinary blend of personal anecdote, historical context, and of socio-political commentary that tells the heart-rending and totally inspiring story of the life and work of Haregewoin Teferra.
As a physician born and raised in Africa, fairly well-acquainted with the AIDS crisis, and with the political turmoil and constant controversies regarding African-Western relations, I was bowled over by the brilliance, accuracy and power of this book. The author captures one’s attention by the deeply touching story of an Ethiopian woman who finds herself reluctantly taking in orphans (at the request of her church) and, as a result, experiencing profound healing from the devastation of losing her own husband and daughter. As she begins this journey she is unaware that “the most terrible epidemic in human history (is) knocking at the scraped metal door of her compound, politely at first, but with persistence, and then it (is) banging with fists."
Haregewoin’s life is both extraordinarily simple and complex, and Greene does not shy away from the difficult chapters of doubt and false accusations that she faces. And then in a surprisingly successful way, woven in between the events of this most personal story, Greene summarizes for the reader an impeccably researched history of Ethiopia (religious and political), AIDS (including medical and pathological descriptions which are clear, simple, and accurate), and the courageous, worldwide battle to allow affordable treatment to reach the vast majority of the world’s AIDS victims in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Human beings are not wired to absorb twelve million,” the number of AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa at the time she wrote, Greene comments. As she tells the stories of several children whom Haregewoin takes in, some of whom are HIV positive, some of whom cannot be saved, and a few of whom end up in the US, the reader is able to relate so much more to this colossal tragedy. Our hearts are touched in a way that brings deep sorrow and conviction but also encouragement and inspiration. Greene has adopted two Ethiopian children of her own and she skillfully covers the controversies regarding international adoption and the inevitable questions that arise. She includes the moving accounts of several American families and their challenges in raising Ethiopian children, some of whom are deeply wounded as a result of the intense physical and emotional pain they have endured.
This book should be required reading for any Westerner going on a short term mission trip to Africa, particularly Ethiopia, and anyone considering African adoption. It will equip one with essential background knowledge but also open one’s heart and mind to how God can use committed individuals to bring healing and hope to some of His most afflicted children. I agree with Alex Kotlowitz (author of There Are No Children Here) that after you read this book the world will never look the same.