The original book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder is one of my very favorite books, so when I saw that Michael French had released an edition “Adapted for Young People” I decided to order it for the library and see how it was different from the original.
The subtitle of Mountains Beyond Mountains is “The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, the Man Who Would Cure the World” and that is a fairly accurate summary of the book. Paul Farmer excelled at Harvard Medical School and likely could have worked at any hospital or office in the USA that he chose. Instead, he found himself drawn to treating patients in Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere. When you read about the conditions Farmer lives in and how hard he works to save his patients, it’s hard not to think of him as a saint. In the book, Kidder comments on this:
It wasn’t the first time Farmer had heard himself called [a saint]. When I asked him for his reaction, he replied, “I don’t care how often people say, ‘You’re a saint.’ It’s not that I mind it. It’s that it’s inaccurate.”
Then he added, “People call me a saint, and I think I have to work harder. Because a saint would be a great thing to be.”
What I find so compelling about Mountains Beyond Mountains is not only that it documents Paul Farmer’s admirable work, but also that it documents the cost his work has on his personal life. Tracy Kidder spoke to many of Farmer’s friends, including his ex-girlfriend (Opheilia Dahl, daughter of children’s author Roald Dahl) and all reported at times feeling inadequate compared to Farmer, or that he did not value their relationships.
Based on reading Mountains Beyond Mountains, I’m not sure I would want to be friends with Paul Farmer, but I definitely admire his work. The foundation he started in Haiti, Partners in Health, has spread to other developing countries, led to changes in World Health Organization standards, and saved countless lives.
Michael French’s adaptation for young people is shorter than Tracy Kidder’s original version and lighter on details, particularly a lot of the medical speak. However, it remains a fascinating portrait of a compelling figure, and I think the story retains most of its power. Having read Tracy Kidder’s original book multiple times I did miss some details from the original, such as Paul Farmer’s love of People magazine. Overall, though, I think the young people’s edition is a great book to read for those who want to be introduced to Paul Farmer’s incredible work without having to read about it in quite as much depth as the original edition offered. It contains all of the same elements as Kidder’s original–I had wondered if perhaps French would cut out the chapter about Farmer’s work in Peru and focus only on Haiti, but that was not the case.
This edition also includes a postscript about what has happened in Haiti since the writing of the original book, including the 2010 earthquake.
Reviewed by: Teen librarian Renata
Recommended for: Anyone looking for a true, inspiring story