Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 414

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Themes of My Own Country include belonging, the search for a place of one's own, medical prejudice, and the tragedy of the AIDS epidemic.

Abraham Verghese writes about never feeling like he belongs. As an Indian man in America, he had less of a chance to access prestigious medical internships than other doctors. He also lived in small communities where there weren't a lot of immigrants. Once he begins working with AIDS patients, he has an additional stigma that separated him from others. The fears surrounding the AIDS virus even creates a separation between him and his wife. Oddly, the sense of isolation and the lack of belonging makes it easier for his patients to connect with him; they often experience a similar isolation because of their disease.

The search for a place to call home is another theme that Verghese writes about. He never feels like he belongs, no matter where he lives. That's one thing that brings him back to Johnson City, Tennessee. He wants to find a place where he feels like he is at home—and he does. Ultimately, though, he has to leave to take a new job where he is less directly connected with patients.

Medical prejudice is also something Verghese discusses. Doctors and people in the lives of AIDS patients reject them and blame them for their own illness. He finds that people are reluctant to treat them. Since he's willing to treat them, his patient list balloons, and he has less time with his family. The disease almost causes people to see those afflicted as less than human. At one point, he says that the diagnosis is a joke to people. It also inspires fear in people who don't understand how it's transmitted.

Finally, the book points out the tragedy that was the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. The symptoms of the disease and disease transmission were not yet fully understood at the time. People left home, got the disease, and came home to scorn. It created a stigma in many lives that were then tragically cut short. Verghese paints a picture of a time before AZT was widely used to help suppress symptoms; people died at a very high rate, and even those without the disease were scared of it. When Verghese leaves Tennessee, he goes on to work with AIDS patients in another setting, because even though he needs a lifestyle change, the disease is still something that he is inspired to assist with.

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