Friday, June 12, 2015

From the Archives: Book review originally published in A&U Magazine
The Secret Epidemic - The Story of AIDS and Black America
By Jacob Levenson

Considered by some reviewers "the sequel of Randy Shilts' 'And the Band Played On,'" Jacob Levenson's "The Secret Epidemic" embarks readers on an expedition to the roots of the AIDS epidemic in "Black America." 

Frozen Hearts. Lensbaby Photography by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Frozen Hearts. Lensbaby Photography by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

From the rural Alabama to San Francisco, New York City and the White House, the author interweaves personal stories, the role of black church, civil rights and AIDS activism to create a realistic portrait of the AIDS epidemic in the United States.   

Throughout the read, we evolve together with the characters and take active part in their stories.  As readers, we interact with the tragic, bittersweet, also hopeful events in protagonists' lives.  We follow the social worker to a rural Alabama trailer park and struggle together with him to save the lives of two HIV positive teenage girls.  The enthusiasm of some of the first black researchers investigating the connection between cocaine addiction and AIDS epidemic is a true example of the power of perseverance.  We cheer for the young AIDS activist, son of an "elite" black family, who demonstrates in front of the White House.  The young HIV positive woman finding spiritual healing and strength to survive through faith challenges readers' own beliefs.   

Maybe the most inspiring story is that of a young man, Ato.  Sometimes, AIDS brings out the best in people.  Ato's is such an example, a story about his struggle with the disease and his legacy.  Throughout his ordeal, the teenager matures and starts to understand the importance of "fight[ing] AIDS, not the people with AIDS."  Despite his suffering, he touches other people's lives with his new beliefs about AIDS and its impact on life in general.  He finds the strength to open the doors to his closet and talk about his disease.  Determined to live long enough to make sure others "will not have to suffer in the silence that [he]'s suffered in," Ato prepares his own passing as an AIDS awareness event and leaves his mother in charge of his legacy... and Laura makes sure her son's wish comes true.     

"The Secret Epidemic" examines the importance of understanding the AIDS epidemic in relation with civil rights and race, in America.  It unravels not isolated incidents, but stories that make up our everyday existence.  Throughout the entire read, the author never presents AIDS as an isolated issue, but always a topic integrated and linked to many aspects of daily life. 

Note: many years ago I reviewed The Secret Epidemic for A&U Magazine. For more about my covering HIV/AIDS, please visit Art, AIDS & Others

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