When Bodies Remember: Experiences and Politics of Aids in South Africa

Hilary Mantel writes:

Many writers have referred to the ‘mystery’ of Aids in Africa; the chief puzzle is why rates of heterosexual transmission are so high. Why, Fassin asks, should the mystery yield readily to outside investigation? South Africa in particular is not a transparent society. But, he says, ‘my purpose and hope here is to affirm the principle of intelligibility.’ He reads the epidemic not so much through medical facts, statistics and case histories as through a history of how we think about Aids and why we think as we do. He wants to understand the epidemic phenomenologically, and not merely through the experience of individuals but of communities, not just in the light of the present but of the past; above all, to understand it as an experience of the body, the site where the past has made its mark as surely as it has made its mark on the landscape.

(LRB 20 September 2007)