Anne Marie Ruff discussing "Through These Veins" (May 28 - June 1)
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Hi everyone! My first novel Through These Veins is partially based on my experience as a reporter on AIDS research and drug development in SE Asia, the Middle East and East Africa. I reported for NPR, the BBC, PRI and the Christian Science Monitor. I actually met a real life scientist who inspired one of the main characters. Even if you haven't finished the book, I'd love to answer any questions you have on HIV/AIDS research, world travel, Ethiopia, the pharmaceutical world, and anything else you want to cover! Ask away!
Have you read Cutting for Stone? I loved this epic tale set in Ethiopia. As I read it, I discovered a lot of resonant themes, the geography, healing, the cultural dislocation of moving to America, yearning for one's father, the sudden death of a mother. I really admired Abraham Verghese's writing, and managed to get through all 500 some pages. If you are up for a faster read, Through These Veins clocks in at a brief 244 pages. But maybe there should be a sequel?
Hi Anne! When I read of the work you have done in Africa before reading the novel I knew it would add a sense of validity to what you had to say, but I was surprised upon completing the book and reading the acknowledgements that you were present during the pomargranate expidition and that Stefano was inspired by a real person.
Were any other major events inspired by things you have seen?
For example, I was curious about the comments made by characters about how many villages were replacing their coffee bean trees with more lucrative crops. Is this something you have witnessed or one of the fictionalized aspects of your novel?
Hi Ape! Thanks for your questions. Actually most of the book is inspired by real events or real people. The combination of a plant and a fungus to cure AIDS, is almost the only true fiction.
I am a recovering journalist so I stick pretty closely to facts and real life situations. The conversion of Ethiopian shade coffee forests to the cultivation of qat (also spelled chat) really happens. When I traveled to Ethiopia in 2002, the conversion - and the attendant environmental destruction - was a hot topic among farmers as well as local and international non-governmental organizations.
The idea of logging trees that harbor a specific promising substance is also based on a real life event. When I was based in Asia, I reported on exactly this kind of situation. A western drug company was proceeding to clinical trials with a substance extracted from an old growth tree in Malaysia. When a field team went back to collect more, the original source tree had been illegally logged, and other similar trees didn't contain the substance at the same potency. My hero, E.O. Wilson, also wrote about this situation in his book "The Future of Life".
All of the historical characters I mention are real people, Schultes, Wilson, and of course, Vavilov. The scientists, Robert, Ruth, and Phil are composites of several people I know, hopefully real enough to come across as real, but obscured enough to protect the originals!
Even some of the tiny details are drawn from life. For example Robert is rear ended and injures his hand from the impact of his own teeth. As a child I was in a car accident. I had been sitting next to the driver and my face crashed into the steering wheel. The driver still has a scar on her right hand from my teeth.
I find that real life is endlessly fascinating and offers an infinite buffet of material. I figured my challenge has been to try to shape that reality into a yarn that draws a reader along from the beginning to the end.
Hi Anne Marie, I enjoyed your book! It was disheartening to read about a cure for a horrible disease being found, only to be rejected (even temporarily) by the drug companies because it wasn't profitable enough. Have you ever run across this situation in real life?
Thanks for your message. I haven't worked on the inside of a pharmaceutical company to see this play out in the flesh. But the profit imperatives of the current pharmaceutical model mean that a lot of diseases are not even worthy of research. There are a whole suite of diseases labeled orphan diseases. These are mailnly tropical diseases that afflict mostly poor people in tropical countries. Private entities are not interested in funding research, because the likelihood of a return from a profitable market is so small, and the public institutions in those regions don't have the resources to invest in research.
Similarly, when I was reporting on HIV/AIDS research, the small biotech companies working on research into a vaccine (which would be administered in only a handful of doses at the most) complained that the funding available for research was an order of magnitude less that the funding available for research into therapies. Jon Cohen in his book Shots in the Dark - The Wayward Search for An AIDS Vaccine chronicles this in great detail.
The idea is disheartening. But I don't think the answer is to blame the pharmaceutical companies. If they don't make a profit, they can't continue to exist. I think the problem points out that we need different models, different kinds of institutions to fund the research into diseases, treatments and even cures that are unattractive to the pharmaceutical industry. The Gates Foundation is an excellent example of what other kinds of organizations can do.
Anne, I just loved your book and have told several people about it. It grabbed my interest from the very beginning and that's a personal test for me. I am such an avid reader, that if a book doesn't grab my attention quickly, I am likely to put it down and pick up something else. I have more books than I have time, so I need to be selective. I can't wait to read whatever you write next. Good luck! Barbara (Gregory-Pearlman)
Many thanks for your feedback and for spreading the word. So glad to know that the book grabbed you early.
I am working on a second novel about an American woman who marries a Pakistani man, a man who subsequently commits a terrorist attack in the U.S. I expect to have a first draft ready in the fall.
I do write some lighter things as well - have blogged recently about what my chickens have taught me about the English language. You can check out my website and my blog at www.annemarieruff.com .
Happy reading - I admire that you are able to read as much as you do. You are extending your life, at least that's my theory in another blog post More art = more life.
I have enjoyed the thoughtfulness of the posts and questions here on LibraryThing. Thanks for joining the discussion. Although the week is closing, I welcome additional questions, comments, suggestions from readers or reviewers. Please visit me and my blog, Between the Lines, at www.annemarieruff.com .
I've also told people about your book, I just love it! I have lent my copy for my daughter to read. She is a college student so she is low on funds! I also posted your book and my review on my Facebook page to my friends. I hope this helps get the word out! I so appreciate your work.
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