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Three Letter Plague: A Young Man's Journey Through a Great Epidemic [Paperback]

Jonny Steinberg
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

11 Dec 2008

At the end of a steep gravel road in one of the remotest corners of South Africa's Eastern Cape lies the village of Ithanga. Home to a few hundred villagers, the majority of them unemployed, it is inconceivably poor. It is to here that award-winning author Jonny Steinberg travels to explore the lives of a community caught up in a battle to survive the ravages of the greatest plague of our times, the African AIDS epidemic.

He befriends Sizwe, a young local man who refuses to be tested for AIDS despite the existence of a well-run testing and anti-retroviral programme. It is Sizwe's deep ambivalence, rooted in his deep sense of the cultural divide, that becomes the key to understanding the dynamics that thread their way through a terrified community.

As Steinberg grapples to get closer to finding answers that remain just out of reach, he realizes that he must look within himself to unlock the paradoxes at the heart of his country.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (11 Dec 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099524198
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099524199
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 340,813 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"This forceful narrative, with sharp insights and value...has to do with the immense power of stigma, the ways in which we mirror the real or imagined condemnation of others, and of how easily stigma becomes entwined with sexuality" (New York Times)

"Writing with tenderness and authority, Steinberg skilfully manoeuvres past the prejudice that so often muddles analysis of HIV/AIDS to capture the essence of the pandemic and how it threatens not just lives in South Africa but the future of an entire nation" (Tim Butcher)

"With his distinctive clarity of vision, Jonny Steinberg mines down into another of contemporary South Africa's fault lines and manages to pull off a remarkable literary feat - how to make AIDS engaging to a largely fatigued world" (Peter Godwin)

"A compelling account... jaw-dropping and unforgettable" (Independent)

"Sex and death are hard to talk about, but Jonny Steinberg has a gift for coaxing people to open up. If you want to know why AIDS is devastating southern Africa, you have to read this book. It is a brilliant exploration of the secret, intimate decisions that turn an epidemic into a catastrophe" (Robert Guest)


`illuminating...His absorbing tale is one of immense significance...a complex and eye-opening journey through the responses to HIV'

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By mel
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was recommended to me some years ago but I delayed reading it as I am an HIV specialist and felt it would be a busmans holiday. It's really good! It reflects what I have witnessed both in UK and in various parts of Africa and gives a good insight into how HIV and especially the stigma affects those living with it. There is the odd medical inaccuracy but otherwise I would strongly recommended it to anyone wanting to know more about the impact of HIV, espacially if they were planning on working in a rural community in South Africa.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An unexpectedly riveting read 4 Nov 2011
Steinberg sets out to investigate, as a journalist, how stigma impacts on the uptake of HIV testing and AIDS treatment in rural Southern Africa. Understanding this is essential to a successful strategy, as he points out it would be terrible if people were dying needlessly within reach of good services. Having found a well organised and accessible service Steinberg gets to know people in the area, asking them about their lives and in particular their thoughts about this issue. In particular he spends time with one young man whose life and hopes for the future unfold in a series of beautifully told stories. Steinberg's writing is hypnotically elegant, he would be readable on almost any subject, but the details of these lives and relationships are riveting.
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