The heat of the African sun was eclipsed by the door of the hospital ward. It wasn't much cooler inside but the difference was appreciable. The doctor walked over to the nurse who stood at the foot of the bed of their latest arrival, another AIDS patient. The fresh face of a new victim always affected the doctor in a way that she found quite strange. Her stomach lurched at the prospect of watching another face fade, the light in the patient's eyes fading with every day that passed until the patient was left with only the slightest glimmer, as if all that they had left in their world was to wait for death to finally overcome them and end their misery. The doctor had to remember that the person lying in that bed waiting for their diagnosis was one of the lucky ones. Who knew how far this curse had spread? Who knew how many people were struggling in this continent without knowing what had made them sick or what was killing them.
The doctor took the chart mechanically from the nurse and cast her eyes at the bottom line. With a few words the life of the patient, what was left of it anyway, had been changed forever. Their would be a series of medical battles that they would fight, some victories but more often tragic losses as the disease gained ground inside the patient's body.
The medical history was so familiar. The patient was a victim of rape, so many were. If this woman had been pregnant the already sad situation would only have been made more complicated and tragic for both mother and child. This woman was a victim. Too often in the west the stereotypical AIDS patient (someone who had been 'unlucky' enough to be exposed but who had actively chosen to engage in risky behaviour) was the template used to judge victims in the developing world. More often than not it was young women who had been exposed through no fault of their own.
The novel, when it first came out, was something 'new', hence its name. The original novelists were looking for new ways to tell their stories and engage their audiences. As a literary device the novel played with narrative structure and explored the possibilities of new voices and ideas. The original novels were not the traditional story-telling structure that we are used to today. They were a collection of letters that told the story of the people writing them. Authors have also played with the notion that novels can deal with non-fiction subjects, such as Truman Capote's 'In Cold Blood'.
This is a novel, in the original sense of the format, about the AIDS epidemic. This novel is a collection of short stories, poetry, word pictures and historical essays that trace the timeline from the origins of the disease to the present day. The novel was inspired by the Jackie French novel The Valley of Gold which records the history of the Araluen Valley in much the same way.
(c) Jon Bailey Soli Deo Gloria!