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Six Months in Sudan

MSF doctor asks why atrocities draw so little reaction from the global community

By Kevin Spurgaitis

Six Months in Sudan
By Dr. James Maskalyk
(Doubleday Canada) $29.95

In 2007, James Maskalyk set out for war-torn Sudan as the newest medical doctor in the field for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). Charged by his own experience as an emergency room physician in Toronto, Maskalyk spent nearly half a year treating malnourished children, fending off a measles epidemic and staying out of harm’s way. Frustrated by the struggle to meet overwhelming needs with inadequate resources, he blogged about his overseas work before expanding his ruminations into a memoir.

Six Months in Sudan is his stirring account of non-combatants trapped in civil war: the townsfolk of Abyei who suffer daily hardships, as well as the doctors, nurses and volunteers who help the local citizenry endure. Maskalyk attempts to find meaning in this setting while reminding westerners of injustices just a world away.

The author’s storytelling, like his medical practice, is best served by close attention to detail. “This is what happens if you are a Dinka child: dead at the age of 13 months,” he writes. “Your father takes a small piece of string and binds your large toes together, to keep your legs closed, then wraps your feet. Your hands are placed grasping each other, and your thumbs are bound. Your fingers are then concealed in gauze. Last, he lifts you onto a piece of colored cloth and wraps you a final time.”

Melancholy at times, light-hearted at others, the book also asks why atrocities continue to receive almost widespread condemnation, yet draw so little reaction from the global community. After all, as Maskalyk comes to understand, much of the work of repairing the world is utterly doable. “It’s hope that not only meets despair in equal measure, but drowns it considerably.”

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