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Beyond Darfur

May 16, 2009, 12:00 am
By Elizabeth


The 2009 release, Six Months in Sudan by James Maskalyk began as a series of simple blog posts about his experiences as a doctor in war-torn Sudan. The book is a remarkable description of life in the Sudanese bush. It provides a big-picture look on how the genocide affects all regions of Sudan. As Maskalyk notes in the first few pages of his book, he never set foot in Darfur. Yet, the conflicts there affects even the country village of Abyei, where Maskalyk set up shop.



Maskalyk's writing is economical and to-the-point, but it's also oddly flat and emotionless, especially given the intensely emotional subject matter. The book's style is more tell, less show, perhaps a reflection of the book's origins as a weblog.

One thing Maskalyk doesn't skimp on are the gory medical emergencies he was faced with on a daily basis. Descriptions of measles and pus-filled injuries appear on almost every page. Maskalyk describes in painstaiking detail the countless starving children and raped women he treated during his time in the Sudan.

However instead of reflecting on the privelege of doing interesting things, providing real services to people in need, and getting to see an international crisis up close and personal, the descriptions of medical emergencies are interspersed with jarring moments of Maskalyk complaining about his trip.

"It hasn't been a very good time," he declares on the phone, in one scene. "I mean, I know it's not about good times, but it's harder than I thought it was going to be. It's like . . . I can't get away, you know? Not even in my sleep."

While these sentiments are undeniably honest, they seem shockingly trivial next to the real crises the author is confronted with on a day-to-day basis. Maskalyk may simply be being tongue-and-cheek, but the constant musings on how much life in Sudan sucks read as simply childish and self-absorbed. If girls, beer, and other luxury items were really as important to Maskalyk as he claims they are within the pages of his book, one can't help thinking that he could just as easily have opted to practice his skills in a western nation with modern amenities.

Despite its flaws, Six Months in Sudan has a lot going for it. It's an effective piece of medical journalism. Injuries and their treatments are explored in detail and readers will enjoy the intimate look into Masalyk's thought process as he ferrets out the solution to numerous medical mysteries. Sudan is a unique, realistic look at the day-to-day grind of doctoring as well as the challenging lifestyle of aid workers in war-torn regions. The book's tone may be emotionless, but the suffering of the Sudanese people speak for themselves. Six Months in Sudan is the kind of book that makes you want to do more than just donate money. Masalyk's recollections of his time in Sudan will make readers want to get up off the couch and go see the conflict for themselves.

 

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