Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World Part IV, Chapter 20 Summary and Analysis

Tracy Kidder

Part IV, Chapter 20 Summary and Analysis

Chapter 20 begins several years later, in 2000, with Kidder talking to Howard Hiatt, who was arguing for Farmer to spend his time in ways that were more useful for more people. This is followed by a summary of Farmer at 40 years old, a summary that includes his successes, his failures, and his idiosyncrasies. Kidder describes Farmer dealing with his daily email—up to 75 messages a day, many of which were requests for help.

Kidder accompanies Farmer to the Cange for two weeks. Farmer used to dress casually when he traveled but now wore a black suit, black because he was often a formal representative of a group now and because it took ink stains without showing. As they travel, they talk about the suffering they see. Farmer talks about his love for Haiti and Haitians, and demonstrates it through his observations on the plane, through guiding new travelers in the airport, and through working continually as he travels.

Kidder incorporates a brief description from Ophelia about the complexity of Farmer's personality: a need for praise and for continual activity, frequent sadness and frequent cheer. Kidder follows this with a description of Farmer's travel routine at the Miami airport and with a sketch of Farmer's managerial /organizational style that illustrates his character. No one could be fired from any of their enterprises unless that person stole from the organization or for "slapping a patient twice." Farmer also complains about not having any time off, but then fills in any scheduled breaks with activity.

This chapter with its mosaic of highly varied glimpses of Farmer fulfills numerous functions. By starting so long after the time period presented in Chapter 19, Kidder reminds the reader of his long exposure to Farmer; traveling with him underscores Kidder's firsthand perspective. Together, they reinforce Kidder's credibility as a witness. This makes the moments in which Farmer seems odd, idiosyncratic, or simply human all the more useful, moving, and poignant. The complexity of Farmer's personality is most visible in the rule that an employee had to slap a patient twice to get fired. Hitting a patient once seems unforgivable...but a worker in Cange had slapped a patient, and Farmer changed the rule to fit his desire to keep the worker. This aligns with Farmer's general rule of letting reality trump theory or ideology. The description of Farmer's time in the Miami airport reveals a man who travels so much that he has routines, nicknames, and strategies for every step of the way.