My own country : a doctor's story

by A. Verghese

Paper Book, 1995


A young doctor of eastern Tennessee describes the town's first introduction to the AIDS virus, which preceded a disturbing epidemic and introduced the doctor to many unique people.



Call number



New York : Vintage Books, 1995.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Mziselman
I absolutely love this man's writing. There is a...gentleness, a kindness to his words. The genuine caring and concern that he has for his patients is truly touching and, unfortunately, a rarity in today's world of medical care, where it's all about deductible's and co-pays. I highly recommend this
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book, as well as his wonderful novel Cutting for Stone.
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LibraryThing member -Cee-
Verghese writes a very personal account of his involvement as an infectious disease specialist at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in Tennesee. He explores with compassion the attitudes, fears, and ignorance of healthcare workers, the homosexual community, and the general public. Dedicated to the
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care of his patients who presented new problems for treatment and prevention he shares intimate and public experiences and emotions.

This is an interesting historical view of HIV/AIDS and its impact on a rural American community. A product of clear thinking and soul searching, this well written book tells stories of the personal cost and sadness of a disease we are still trying to conquer.
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LibraryThing member GaltJ
I was so intrigued with Abraham Verghese after reading Cutting for Stone. I was pretty curious about how much of that book was Autobiographical and this book was also recommended to me. WOW it was good, heavy, intense, personal, amazing, and full of detail I had come to expect of Verghese. A
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fascinating view of the AIDS epidemic and how profoundly it affected one doctor.
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LibraryThing member klburnside
In this book, Abraham Verghese writes about treating AIDS patients as a doctor in rural Tennessee in the 1980s. Verghese was born and raised in Ethiopia to Indian parents, attended medical school in India, and completed his residency in Johnson City, Tennesee. He spent a few years in Boston, and
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then returned to Johnson City and worked in the hospital there, specializing in infectious diseases. By default, he became the HIV/AIDS specialist for Johnson City, and much of the surrounding rural area.

When he arrived in Tennessee in the early 1980s, there had been no reported cases of HIV in the area and little was known about the disease. He writes about the stigma surrounding the disease the harsh reaction from some community members and medical professionals when confronted with HIV postive individuals. Verghese struggles with his own prejudices towards his patients, noting his different reaction to his patients who contracted HIV through promiscious sexual activity and those who contracted the virus through a blood transfusion.

This book encompasses a lot. Verghese tells the stories of a lot of his patients, the story of how he came to feel at home in eastern Tennessee, and how his work affected his marraige. I learned a lot about HIV/AIDS. The book was engaging and well written, and I would recommend it.
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LibraryThing member cgl56
A warm and personal account of how the AIDS epidemic crept into rural Tennessee. Dr. Verghese's fascination with, care of and for AIDS patients in his community is touching. His interest in them extended far beyond his practice as an infectious disease specialist. He has a great capacity for
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detail, which can be interesting at times, but often bogs down the pace of this memoir. This is worth the read and gives good historical perspective on the AIDS epidemic as it moved beyond urban centers. Yes, this is the same Abraham Verghese who wrote Cutting for Stone!
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LibraryThing member mazeway
Eh? It was mostly good. There was too much of it. It had that first-time author navel gazing. The narrative was all over the place, but for no good reason. I enjoyed the way he wrote about the Johnson City area. I liked his humor. But it was indulgent and needed paring down.
LibraryThing member sumariotter
This was a very interesting and moving story. It is the first book that I have read about AIDS. I loved this doctor's open-minded curiosity about and empathy with his patients. Sometimes the graphic medical details were too much for me, but overall I felt very moved by his life story, by the slow
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way in which his vocation pulls him in deeper and deeper into the experience of pain and death and healing.
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LibraryThing member wbwilburn5
Finally a doctor who is human and generous of spirit. Great book.
LibraryThing member LoisB
I just finished My Own Country by Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting For Stone. Although this book was written before Cutting for Stone, chronologically, it takes place after he finishes medical school and his residencies. It details his journey into the world of AIDS as an Infectious Disease
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Specialist just as the AIDS epidemic was beginning. I can only say that we should all be lucky enough to have a physician like Dr. Verghese. The story was inspiring and intiquing. Very definitely a good read!
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LibraryThing member shazjhb
Excellent book. Working as a nurse it is interesting to trace the history of AIDS. I remember caring for clients with no gloves or goggles before AIDS. I also took care of the early diagnosed people. Sad sad disease.
LibraryThing member devilish2
A rural US doctor's account of AIDS in the early '80s. Abraham explores the relationships he develops with his patients and their families. He describes his work, his commitment to it, his relationships with other health professionals, his personal doubts, the effect on his family, his otherness (a
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boy of southern Indian parents but raised in Ethiopia), his attachment to his new home town. It is a deeply intimate portrait of a doctor at work in a particular time and place. It is extremely well written and very moving.
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LibraryThing member BookConcierge
In 1985 Abraham Verghese, a young Indian doctor specializing in infectious diseases, was working in Johnson City, Tennessee. Nestled in the Smoky Mountains, the town had always seemed exempt from the anxieties and modern American life. But that summer, the local hospital treated its first AIDS
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patient, and before long a crisis that had once seemed an “urban problem” had arrived in town to stay.

This is Verghese's memoir of that time. Using several case studies to illustrate, he tells the community's story as well as that of his own personal journey. It is informative, inspiring, tender, frightening, compassionate and memorable.

This is a story of courage and fear, of uninformed reactions and thoughtful response, of death and living, of bemoaning one's fate and rising to the occasion, of being an outsider and belonging to a community, of angry denial and graceful acceptance. Verghese is eloquent in describing his surroundings, patients and others in the town and surrounding area.
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LibraryThing member pussreboots
My Own Country is a tough book to read. There are so many stories of people struggling to live in the early years before there were any treatments to make living with HIV at all possible. There's also the growing despair of the author as he sees the disease spreading through his rural town and of
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course across the globe and not having anything he can do beyond diagnosing the disease and treating the opportunistic diseases that attack his patients.

By about page 250 I began to grow numb from the overload off all the personal stories. The book as well begins to ramble a bit but I can fully understand why Dr. Verghese chose to leave for a less stressful job.
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LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
Abraham Verghese's My Own Country reaches beyond either memoir or a look at HIV/AIDS. In part, it is an examination of health care--for better and for worse--and even more, it is a look at prejudice, and at the ways stereotypes and bias are both underestimated and overestimated. From his position
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as an Indian doctor who has relocated to Johnson City, Tennessee, and is further set aside as a specialist in infectious disease who becomes an entire hospital system's touchstone specialist for HIV/AIDS, Verghese is in a solitary position, but his honesty and his attention to detail make that position all the more powerful.

Whether speaking of his inability to balance home and work, of what Indian culture looks like when transplanted across an ocean and into rural America (and how it's accepted), of the courageous men and women who attempt to care for one another in the face of a new and deadly disease, of the daily battles against HIV/AIDS, or of prejudice against either culture or disease, he honors each scene and each person with impressive detail that be difficult for any reader to forget.

Difficult as it is to describe, this book is many things, none of them simple. But even long after the days it documents, it is powerful, and it is worth reading.

Absolutely recommended.
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LibraryThing member LeslieHurd
I read this book because I so enjoyed Verghese's semi-autobiographical novel, "Cutting for Stone." I wasn't disappointed. Vergehese was born in Ethiopia of Indian parents and came to the U.S. with his family when the Ehtopian emperor, Haile Selassie I, was deposed. He later went to India to
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complete his medical education and, due to the influence of a well-respected mentor, decided to specialize in infectious diseases. When he returned to the United States he accepted a residency in the small southern town of Johnson City, Tennessee. After his residency he spent two years at Boston City University, ultimately returning to Johnson City. This book focuses on his burgeoning practice dealing with the first AIDS patients in this small, southern town. Many of his gay patients had been born in or near Johnson City and left for the big cities and the freedom they could experience there, returning only when they discovered they had the HIV virus and were out of options. Others were infected by their loved ones or blood transfusions. Verghese, who himself feels like an outsider as a foreigner in this small Bible-belt town, takes the time to really listen to their life histories and understand their current situations, and becomes emotionally involved in their lives. His portrayal of the affilicted patients' experiences with their illness, and his reactions as he tries to improve their lives, are completely engrossing. He has a great compassion for those he serves and I was left wondering what happened next both in their lives and his. I will definitely be adding his second book, "The Tennis Partner: A Story of Friendship and Loss," to my TBR list.
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LibraryThing member Rascalstar
Dr. Verghese writes movingly about his early work with HIV and AIDS patients, mostly in the early to mid 1980s, the years of discovery and fear and unscreened blood supplies. He moved his family to a small town in Tennessee and, although he doubted it, he fit in well there and people loved and
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admired him. The work was grueling and stigmatizing, keeping him from his family a good deal of the time. This is the story of some of Dr. Verghese's patients and the life-changing effects they had on him. It's also the story of a kind, wise, thoughtful and committed doctor who turned no one away at a time when everyone was turning them away. It's the story of the early HIV epidemic and how it arrived in small towns. Innocent people contracted this virus through blood transfusions, and it's their story as well.

If you don't know much about HIV, the book is educational. If you have HIV or know much about it, the story may resonate with you and you'll wish Dr. Verghese was your doctor, willing to also be your friend during the worst of times.
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
Well-written, highly readable medical and personal memoir by an infectious disease specialist who became the primary care physician for AIDS patients in a rural Tennessee community just as the disease was starting to make itself known in that culture. Compassionate and informative.
Review written
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March 2009
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LibraryThing member larryerick
I lot of folks I know avoid nonfiction books like the plague. I suspect they read one too many dry history books in school and think all nonfiction is BORING. To that I always offer that they try a better class of book to read. Then, this particular nonfiction book comes along. Well, came along is
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more accurate. Written in the early 90s about the HIV/AIDS explosion during the 80s, this is a memoir of a particular doctor, the author, born in India, raised in Ethiopia, trained in big city American medicine, but now working in rural and small town Tennessee on a task that, at the time, scared folks nearly to death. One could certainly read this book as a so-called AIDS book, for that it certainly is. And yet, one of my very first thoughts as I started reading this is that this much more like reading To Kill a Mockingbird than some stuffy history book. Without any pretentiousness to his style, the author draws us intimately into his new community. Whether it's his nurses or his car mechanic, his fellow Indian American neighbors or his local tennis partner, everyone he introduces us to is accepted for who and what they are, without judgment, and we like him for it, just as his community of neighbors and co-workers and patients do, also. Indeed, the best, the most compelling parts of this book are the conversations that the doctor/author has with a number of his patients and their family. The degree of personal interaction is astounding. While the reader who has not been previously introduced to the disease up close and personally will have plenty to confront, the book is really about our humanity and how we struggle with it and how we share it with others in our own very separate ways. It's almost beside the point that this book is about AIDS. On those occasions when I have asked my wife what her favorite books are, this book was always mentioned. She first read it back when it first was released. For me, I can say without hesitation that no other book I have ever read has brought tears to my eyes so spontaneously and so often. And yet, I don't think it's because it is often sad, which it clearly is. I think it's because it represents the best in our ability to be truly human, a choice we are all too willing to bypass. I don't know if I would have felt this way if it had been one of my first introductions to a devastating disease. It wasn't, and I'm very glad I was able to see all the way into the book's beauty without distraction.
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LibraryThing member jessibud2
What a heartbreaking story. Abraham Verghese chronicles the story of his early years as a young internist in the United States as he begins to find a place for himself in his field of specialty, infectious diseases. As he settles himself and his young family in a small town in Tennessee, he finds
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himself treating some of the earliest patients with HIV AIDS. As the numbers grow, he is learning that he is not simply treating one disease; he is becoming the primary care physician for these patients at a time when very little was known about the disease, and very little could be done. Blood tests to test for it were only beginning to be done, and the stigma was enormous. Verghese was not only the doctor who cared for them, but he also began to trace how and where the virus was contracted and travelled, within the States in those early years. As he became more involved in the lives of some of his patients, he also chronicled the effect and the toll it took on them and their families, as well as on his own personal and family life.

More than once, Verghese reflects that he wants to learn how to help his patients have a good death; that their suffering with this disease is difficult enough throughout its duration. The physician, no matter how good, how competent, and how compassionate, still feels helpless at the end. It is vital that the patients themselves be a part of the decision-making regarding how they want to die, what measures they want or don't want, to be taken when that time comes. In this, I found an interesting overlap with another book I recently read, *Being Mortal* by Atul Gawande.

It's been 25 years since this book ended. I now want to google and read more on Verghese and where his path has led him in those years. He is a gifted writer and observer of the human condition. This was not an easy book to read but it was one I could not put down.
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LibraryThing member splinfo
I'm disappointed to find that the tags lead me to believe this book is primarily about AIDS. Rather, Verghese writes profoundly about community and prejudice in all of its facets. Particularly interesting look at the medical community through the eyes of an Indian doctor.
LibraryThing member chasidar
I loved Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone and found this non-fiction description of his experiences as an infectious disease doctor in a small town during the dawn of the AIDS crisis fascinating.


Lambda Literary Award (Winner — 1994)
National Book Critics Circle Award (Finalist — General Nonfiction — 1994)


Original publication date



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