This is the first time I've written a review of a book or anything else I've bought in fact. But I saw this had no reviews here on Amazon and this book surely deserves one. I'll try my best...
James Maskalyk is an emergency medicine doctor from Canada who embarks upon a mission with MSF to Abyei, Sudan, in the hightened-conflict area between North and South. He worked as Abyei's main doctor in the hospital ran by MSF. His blog was typed during his time in Abyei and serves as a loosely-constructed mold to inter-twine with, and wrap around, his detailed and frank observations, conservations and experiences. Not to say this book is a rambling jumble of accounts - far from it in my view. Dr. James, as he's known in Abyei, manages to pull off something remarkable, yet something I suspect he intended when he decided to write the book and blog - it's a gripping personal account, both of his own journey but also of the people that he meets, however briefly, during his time there. It's uncompromisingly honest and I always felt he was recording events as he witnessed them, but not without a sense of personality, of which there is plenty. He conveys the struggle, politics, hardship, sadness and, occasionally, happiness along with everything else in a manner which is entirely sincere and manages to get under your skin and stay there.
Perhaps some would become tired by the sometimes staccato sentences, brevity of some personal musings or seemingly-random interjections, but I found them to be entirely accessible and they strengthened the communication of what he was trying to convey. He has managed to distill his thoughts and experiences in an effective fashion - it felt like I could experience a part of Abyei and it's story without having set foot in Africa and, judging by the last few chapters, that was one of the major aims of the blog and book. It never felt preachy, and nor did I come away feeling connected but unsympathetic. There is power in the words that have been written in this book, and I think it's because of what James says himself in the book- it's not that we don't care, but our ability to act is blunted by our distance from where the action is required. If only we could be there ourselves... and this is what James Maskalyk manages to portray through his book and blog so effectively and in such a human way. It inspires, and hopefully culminates in, action.
I would recommend this book to anyone, but perhaps even more so to people who are interested in the work done by NGOs, the application of medicine in countries or situations far removed from the familiar, or those looking to embark upon similar work.
I look forward to future work by the author.