Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World Part IV, Chapter 22 Summary and Analysis

Tracy Kidder

Part IV, Chapter 22 Summary and Analysis

Chapter 21 ended with Kidder and Farmer on the plane flying out of Miami. Chapter 22 starts in Paris, where Kidder accompanies Farmer for his daughter Catherine's second birthday before going on to Moscow. Kidder summarizes how Farmer's friends criticize him for spending so little time with his family, then recounts Farmer's story about trying to save a pregnant woman and child—and how Farmer judged himself for loving his own child more than others' children.

After the visit, they leave for the airport, where Farmer goes back to work checking things off his list. While Farmer works, they talk, and the discussion leads into a list of some of the specialized vocabulary and abbreviations Farmer and his circle use. This leads to a discussion of the PIH crowd as a group of insiders—a private culture that could seem superior to outsiders. However, this group of insiders included people from all backgrounds and clashing ideologies, and Farmer was continually inventing private jokes or references for specific individuals (Kidder and Farmer even swap lines from the movie Caddyshack). The chapter ends with a reflection on Farmer's worldview, which sees everything as interconnected.

Chapter 22 ends on an evocative note in which Kidder seems at ease with Farmer's character and respectful of the dense web of interconnections Farmer experiences throughout the world. The chapter itself documents that web: Catherine's birthday gift was purchased in the Miami airport, Farmer's wife lived in Paris (as he had when younger) and was from Haiti, Farmer started tasks in one country and finished them in a second as preparation for travel to a third, and so on. However, in the middle of the chapter, Kidder describes a paradoxical and exclusionary side of Farmer and PIH: they are so focused on their goals that they can judge others who do not support them; they are also essentially a private community, one with its own language. Kidder, who at this point had associated with the PIH group off and on for years, says they feel like "a club, or even like a family." The paradox seems almost unavoidable: this is an organization dedicated to solving problems most of the world accepts as impossible and perhaps necessary, and thus they give up most of the world's rewards in their quest to do so.