(Reviewed by J.D. Jung)
Imagine that a cure for AIDS is well within our reach but research is halted and discoveries kept from the public because it may not be lucrative enough. Author Anne Marie Ruff explores this premise as well as the exploitation of natural resources in underdeveloped countries in her mesmerizing debut novel , Through These Veins.
Chochotte, Ethiopia – The very ill come to this village to see the local “doctor” Nataniel, who cures them from the worst of ills, among them what we call the AIDS virus. His daughter, Zahara, assists him and learns how to combine a red-veined plant with an orange fungus to provide a complete cure for this deadly disease. Unfortunately, the beginning of the end of this beautiful village comes when a prominent coffee baron arrives to be cured. He is resented by the residents for taking their prized coffee beans and exporting them out of the country for profit.
A charismatic Italian scientist, Stefano, interested in conservation and biodiversity, visits Chochotte for a totally different reason. However, upon discovering Nataniel’s cure, he forwards the plant to Robert, an American scientist at the National Institutes of Health in Washington DC, who has written scientific papers on developing pharmaceuticals from traditional medicinal plants.
Meanwhile, through a series of unfortunate events, Zahara is forced to leave Chochotte and winds up at a Washington DC University. She meets Robert and a senior scientist, Ruth, who works for a major drug company interested in coming up with a synthetic version of the medicine. Ruth and Zahara become close friends and secretly set out to mix the compounds to cure a friend who is dying of AIDS.
Compassion versus profit, ethics versus greed and the haunting choice between self-preservation and doing the right thing are all issues at the core of this page-turner. Additionally science, suspense, love and even romance are interspersed throughout the novel. Ms. Ruff, who has reported on AIDS research, conservation and biodiversity in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and East Africa, colorfully paints the Ethiopian village and explores its culture without slowing down the pace or compromising the suspense.
However, Through These Veins is as much character-driven as it is plot-driven. Each personality is fully developed, exposing their flaws as well as their strengths .
Enjoyable and troubling at the same time, Through These Veins is a must read. Additionally, according to the author’s website:
“All profits from the sale of this book will be distributed to the Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines of Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders and the Institute of Biodiversity Conservation in Ethiopia.”