Six Months in Sudan

A Young Doctor in a War-torn Village

Publisher: Anchor Canada
"A rare window on the inner life of an aid worker, on what it means to be a humanitarian around the hard edges of war, and on the certain drive to go on." James Orbinski, author of An Imperfect Offering

In 2007 James Maskalyk set out for the contested border town of Abyei, Sudan, a doctor newly recruited by Médecins Sans Frontières', his days spent treating malnourished children, coping with a measles epidemic and watching for war. Worn thin by the struggle to meet overwhelming needs with few resources, he returned home six months later more affected by the experience, the people and the place, than he had anticipated.

Six Months in Sudan is the story of the doctors, nurses and countless volunteers who leave their homes behind to ease the suffering of others, and it is the story of the people of Abyei who suffer its hardship because it is the only home they have. With great hope and insight, Maskalyk illuminates a distant place and chronicles the toll of war on one community, one man, and the cost of it to all of us.

READ AN EXCERPT

the end.


I decided that this book should start at the end. It is the place I am trying most to understand.

This is it. I am standing in a field watching sparks from a huge bonfire float so high on hot drafts of air that they become stars. It is autumn in upstate New York, and the night is dark and...
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PRAISE FOR

"A rich story that gives a wonderful, raw awareness of what we are as humans. . . . Our hopes and illusions are stripped away, yet we are left not with despair but with a deeper appreciation and a sense of wonder. . . . Brilliant writing. I'm sure Maskalyk is a fine doctor, but he's an even better writer."
Vancouver Sun

“One of the greatest successes of Six Months in Sudan is that it does not try to be anything more than it is—a moment in time. . . . [It] can be read and enjoyed by those who are interested in the humanitarian movement and in global issues, as well as by those who glance at the headlines and want to know what it is like to be there, responding to world tragedies as they unfold.”
The Globe and Mail
 
“[Maskalyk’s] empathy is palpable. . . . As he details daily life on the drab compound—the inescapable heat and dust, the terrible food served by their hostile Sudanese cook, the petty bullying of the local militia—and the wrenching demands of the hospital, the book is vivid, and at times even funny.”
The Walrus
 
“[A] gripping and humane account of a mission spent working for Medecins Sans Frontieres. . . . The crowded and airless hospital is understaffed, under-equipped and periodically invaded by groups of excitable militia. . . .Despite all this, Maskalyk does not lose faith in the work he and MSF are doing in places such as Sudan. If his initial, bright-eyed enthusiasm is soon buried under blood, dust and sweat . . . he retains enough humanity to find consolation in small acts of kindness.”
Daily Mail (UK)
 
“Powerful and shocking. . . .We share [Maskalyk’s] immediate, intimate experience as he confronts so much death... and struggles with limited medical resources in often chaotic circumstances. Heartbreaking scenes are recounted with searing honesty and without a trace of self-satisfaction or self-congratulation.”
The Irish Times
 
“A fresh spin on a familiar story about death, misery, life and survival. . . . This is not the first book to deal with aid work and the perils of war, but it is successful in bringing a blog-style conversation to the reader. Maskalyk's honest monologue depicts frustration, hunger, sickness and longing that any reader can empathize with. It also marks a path of self-discovery, as a young doctor comes to terms with what he wants in life, and a place changes him forever as a doctor and a human being.”
The Gazette (Montreal)
 
 “The prose in [Maskalyk’s blog] is carefully crafted, often poetic, always deliberate. . . .What matters here is what he does with it—making it the core of a bigger story, a moving reflection written back home after an experience he always knew would be life-changing. . . . You’re there, in the dust with him—and, when the rains come, in the sea of mud. You’re there in the makeshift shelters that act as operating theatre, consulting rooms and isolation unit. . . .Most stirringly, you’re with him as he watches the first of many babies die of malnutrition . . . [and] as he tells grieving relatives that it is not MSF’s job to help them with funeral arrangements.”
The Scotsman
 
Six Months in Sudan offers readers . . . an interesting story and hope of understanding such a complex situation. . . . The difference between those who write from the sidelines, and those who write from within is striking. Maskalyk takes the reader there, pulls them into his tukul (hut) and almost smothers with the realities of trying to help.”
Winnipeg Free Press
 
“Moving…. Honest and fluently written, Maskalyk’s book traces his rapport with his colleagues, his growing affection for his adopted town of Abyei and the readjustment he faces on returning to Canada. It is an absorbing insight into international medicine.”
Financial Times
 
“Haunting. . . . the kind of book that makes sense of the senseless and builds important connections between those who have seen and felt what he has, those who aspire to do this kind of work, those who want to support the dedicated humanitarian service of others and those who just want to understand.”
Canadian Medical Association Journal
 
“Maskalyk's soft prose is beautiful and invites with the right intimate details. He offers a rare window on the inner life of an aid worker, on what it means to be a humanitarian around the hard edges of war, and on the certain drive to go on. Why? Because in his words, `hope not only meets despair in equal measure, it drowns it.’”
—James Orbinski, author of An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action in the Twenty-First Century
 
“This journey is beautifully told in sharp beats and lyrical notes. It is the voyage of a young doctor in a hard world and deep within his own heart.”
—Vincent Lam, author of Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures
 
Six Months in Sudan is a wrenchingly heartbreaking account of distant agonies almost too pointed to grasp. Learning about Maskalyk's work there is stirring, but the real miracle is this book paints a picture so precisely and vividly that it becomes impossible to look away. This is Maskalyk’s accomplishment, and his gift to the Sudanese and to us. The shame of our indifference retreats before his exhortation: ‘learn, and understand,’ and perhaps a more bearable future becomes possible for all of us.”
— Kevin Patterson, author of Consumption

“This is an extraordinary book, a piercingly authentic account of the fear, confusion and hope of a young doctor newly deployed to a humanitarian crisis wrapped around by a war. James Maskalyk's commitment to survival – his own as well as his patients' - illuminates this account of doctoring in the sort of desperate place where it couldn't matter more.”
— Jonathan Kaplan, author of The Dressing Station: A Surgeon’s Chronicle of War and Medicine

“In Six Months in Sudan, James Maskalyk tells of his extraordinary experiences working as a doctor for MSF, without a trace of vanity or self-congratulation. His book serves as a salutary reminder of what it means to be an excellent doctor, and a brave man. For anyone who is interested in a career in medicine, or in courage, this is a book to read.”
— Gabriel Weston, author of Direct Red: A Surgeon's View of Her Life-Or-Death Profession


From the Hardcover edition.