At the age of twenty-nine, Sizwe Magadla is among the most handsome, well-educated, and richest of the men in his poverty-stricken village. Dr. Hermann Reuter, a son of old South West African stock, wants to show the world that if you provide decent treatment, people will come and get it, no matter their circumstances.
Sizwe and Hermann live at the epicenter of the greatest plague of our times, the African AIDS epidemic. In South Africa alone, nearly 6 million people in a population of 46 million are HIV-positive. Already, Sizwe has watched several neighbors grow ill and die, yet he himself has pushed AIDS to the margins of his life and associates it obliquely with other people's envy, with comeuppance, and with misfortune.
When Hermann Reuter establishes an antiretroviral treatment program in Sizwe's district and Sizwe discovers that close family members have the virus, the antagonism between these two figures from very different worlds -- one afraid that people will turn their backs on medical care, the other fearful of the advent of a world in which respect for traditional ways has been lost and privacy has been obliterated -- mirrors a continent-wide battle against an epidemic that has corrupted souls as much as bodies.
A heartbreaking tale of shame and pride, sex and death, and a continent's battle with its demons, Steinberg's searing account is a tour-de-force of literary journalism.
Jonny Steinberg was born and bred in South Africa. His previous two books, Midlands (2002) and The Number (2004) both won South Africa's premier nonfiction literary award, the Sunday Times Alan Paton Prize. Steinberg was educated at Wits University in Johannesburg, and at Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He has worked as a journalist at a national daily, written scripts for television drama, and has been a consultant to the South African government on criminal justice policy. He is currently writing a book about immigrants in New York.
"Development is challenging not only because of poverty and lack of political will, but also because of failures in human understanding. By addressing the AIDS crisis with acute insight, imagination, and extraordinary compassion, Jonny Steinberg and Sizwe Magadla have done us a great service."
-- Helen Epstein , author of The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against Aids
"In this trenchant work, Jonny Steinberg brings us an eloquent and compassionate yet tough-minded view of how one young aspiring South African man, in a marginal village setting, confronts the threat of HIV/AIDS. It is a window onto a complex set of realities -- the power of culture, shame, fear, male identity -- that are difficult for most of us to see or understand. Replete with insights and surprises, Sizwe's Test is a major achievement."
-- J. Stephen Morison , Executive Director, HIV/AIDS Task Force, Center for Strategic and International Studies
"In this vivid account of a journey to the frontline in the battle against AIDS, Jonny Steinberg portrays with acute perception the impact of the epidemic on village life in a small rural community in South Africa."
-- Martin Meredith , author of The Fate of Africa
"Medical specialists and well-meaning bureaucrats working on HIV and AIDS seldom understand the inner struggles of those they seek to help. Jonny Steinberg's account of Sizwe Magadla's story begins to unravel the mix of feelings of shame, pride, and stubborn hope that responses to the AIDS epidemic will have to take into account to be successful."
-- Alan Brody, the former UNICEF Representative in Swaziland, pioneered new approaches to education on HIV and AIDS through the arts.
"Steinberg's narrative...builds a disturbing picture of a society caught in a tragic situation with no clear solutions."
-- Kirkus Reviews
"Award-winning South African journalist Steinberg...balances critical distance and compassion with gleanings from his own psychological barriers to HIV testing that further deepen the concern and understanding he accords to Sizwe's story."
-- Publishers Weekly (starred)
"[T]his forceful narrative...[with] sharp insights and value...has to do with the immense power of stigma, the ways in which we mirror the real or imagined condemnation of others by internalizing it, and of how easily stigma becomes entwined with sexuality."
-- New York Times Book Review (Editor's Choice mention)
"A real eye-opener."
"Not since Abraham Vergese's haunting 1994 book about eastern Tennessee, My Own Country, has the AIDS epidemic been described so deeply and humanly, and from so many angles. Steinberg...is keenly attuned to the many way a community encounters illness...[and] has ended up with a big, brave, poignant look into the heart of his country."