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Fall 2009
Special Edition Vol. 2 of 5

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cover of Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

What will you do about the mountains?

A review of Tracy Kidder's novel about Dr. Paul Farmer's incredible life story

When I first picked up Mountains Beyond Mountains, I was skeptical and wondered if this non-fiction would be as riveting a read as the Hosseini novels The Kite runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns that were the common reading texts in 2007-08 and 2008-09.

Boy, was I wrong.

Author Tracy Kidder takes readers on a journey from Alabama to Boston to Haiti as he follows the life story of Dr. Paul Farmer, a physician specializing in infectious disease. Driven by an interest in the Haiti that had been sparked by the Haitian workers he met at tobacco plantations in North Carolina, Farmer headed to the island after completing medical school at Duke University. What Farmer saw there made him realize that Haiti was where he was needed most. The economical and medical needs there were (and still are) astronomical, but Farmer managed to turn around the health of a whole community and nearly halted tuberculosis and AIDS in the village of Cange where he based Zanmi Lasante, his health care program and facility. Farmer still works in Haiti today and in many other communities all over the world, from Peru to Russia.

Mountains Beyond Mountains takes its name from a Haitian proverb about struggles in life. Once you have crossed one mountain, there is another beyond it; once you have triumphed over one problem in life, another appears. Kidder uses the proverb and Farmer’s story not to discourage readers but to pose a question to them: what will you do about the mountains?

Obviously, Farmer’s answer is to climb those mountains, even when they’re never ending. Kidder says, “I felt as though, in Farmer, I’d been offered another way of thinking about a place like Haiti. But his way would be hard to share, because it implied such an extreme definition of a term like ‘doing one’s best.’” Though, like many people Farmer runs into, we may say that not everyone can do as Farmer does. Farmer’s answer to that seems to be, ‘Why not?’

 — by Abigail Long ’12

First year students and First year seminar professors talk about Mountains Beyond Mountains:

"Mountains Beyond Mountains challenged students with its complex take on international healthcare and poverty even as it inspired them with its gripping account of Paul Farmer's single-minded commitment to improving the lives of some of God's most needy and neglected children."

 –Milton Gaither, associate professor of education

"This year’s common reading both inspired and convicted me to live a life that impacts others in a positive way."

—Josh Loffredo ’13


"I am more aware of people needing help and I am more willing to help or to find ways to help them."


—Caitlin Lynch ’13

"Paul Farmer inspired me in his drive to help the needy."

—John Franklin ’13.

"Students struggle with the question of whether Paul Farmer is a Christian in the sense of the word that they are used to.  We discussed why this is even an issue. Students were honest that someone like Paul Farmer, who sacrifices so much for people he doesn't even know, challenges those of who claim to be Christians, but want to be Christians on our own terms.  Paul Farmer challenges us to be uncomfortable."

—Ursula Shreffler, adjunct Instructor in Interdisciplinary Studies

"The book caused me to feel deep sorrow for humanity and strengthened my Christian compassion for fellow human beings. Mountains Beyond Mountains also gave me hope, because it emphasized the ability of one proactive person (or a small group of people) to dramatically make positive changes in the world.   I am a middle class American who has rarely experienced hardship or health challenges. "Mountains Beyond Mountains" was often challenging to read because it transported me from my comfortable existence to a place where human suffering is common. It radically changed my perspective on life and my faith journey."

—Elizabeth Motich ’13

"Mountains Beyond Mountains is a powerful and inspiring book that demonstrates how one person can make a difference. In telling the story of Dr. Farmer, Kidder introduces his readers to a gifted leader who is refreshingly authentic and transparent in his leadership style. Farmer's story was a catalyst for students in my First Year Seminar (Natural Born Leaders: Are Leaders Born or Made?) to become more self-aware, to articulate their values and core beliefs, and to take action consistent with who they are becoming."

—Robert Pepper, instructor in interdisciplinary studies

"What I enjoyed most about the book was how incredible the journey was Paul Farmer to create Partners in Health.  He saw a need that no one else would attend to, and with sheer willpower, Dr. Farmer and his colleagues that he met up with along the way were able to create a successful not for profit clinic.
The book affected me in an incredible way.  I realized that I should be more selfless and serve others as Farmer served people all around the world.  This book inspired me to serve my community more by attending outreaches to urban communities and to help make a difference in the lives of many.  Most importantly, the book got me seriously thinking about going on a mission trip out to wherever the Lord calls me to. "

 —Brandon Keeks ’13


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