Saturday, August 28, 2010

Learning through Art

Learning through Art: AIDS Book Reviews

Writing is a form of art. Writing, as an art form, takes shape through short pieces of creative work, creative writing, and also through longer works, such as books. When it comes to books, there are many out there, but not that many that deal with HIV/AIDS. Yes, some of us know the 'classics' And the Band Played On being the first that comes to mind. But there are other books that touch on HIV/AIDS from various perspective. They are works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry or collections that enable us to better understand the complexity of the epidemic and to put ourselves in the shoes of those living with the virus.

Over the years I've read and reviewed books, and also interviewed quite a few authors creating in this realm. Although some of the books were published a few years ago, their message remains timeless. Here are a few of my favorites, most of them originally published in AIDS-related publications such as A&U--America's AIDS Magazine.

As always, thanks for reading,
Alina Oswald
Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS

Above the Thunder
By Renee Manfredi
Reviewed by Alina Oswald
Originally published in A&U Magazine

Reincarnation, the Afterlife, loss and the power of love and hope... they are all topics that traverse Renee Manfredi's debut novel, Above the Thunder.  The author interweaves the apparently settled lives of Anna Brinkman-a 50ish Bostonian widow and medical technologist in charge of an AIDS support group-Jack, a hostile HIV-positive patient in Anna's support group who's cheating on his longtime partner, Stuart-and Flynn, Anna's twelve-year-old granddaughter, whose love mends together all their lives in the most unexpected ways.  In the process, Anna, Jack and Stuart become her new family while, in the same time, she becomes their reason to hope, love, and live again.  

The experience of the hospital AIDS support group offers Anna, Jack and Stuart the necessary tools to deal with the crises in their own lives.  Each of the characters in the book experiences loss-be it loss of life, health, or love.  But despite the grief, each character eventually learns to cope with the unsettled present and to hope in the future-be that physical (future generations), or spiritual (the Afterlife).  Through this entire experience, Flynn is the one who mends hearts and lives, and brings her loved ones together, helping them enrich their physical, as much as spiritual existence.  As a result, Anna learns to appreciate the safety of her new, unusual family; Jack finally understands the meaning of true love and starts to enjoy the simple things in life, while Stuart gathers the strength to give trust, love and Jack another try.    

Above the Thunder is a thought-provoking story.  Its characters, as unforgettable as the story itself, are also as real as the real-life obstacles they have to surpass.  Above the Thunder enlightens, while offering us a chance to reflect on our lives... And if we do it long enough, we'll learn how to "get out of [the storms]" of our existence and go "up to where it's warm and calm.  High up, above the thunder."

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