A Story About The Story of a Plague
In 2018, just under half of the world’s new HIV infections, 800,000, appeared in South and Eastern Africa. There are some bright spots – currently 85% of people living with HIV in these areas are now aware of their status. Thanks to a sustained world effort and the United States PEPFAR program, 79% of those who area aware of their status are using HIV medication.
Things are getting better.
But the HIV epidemic is so much more than just the disease that can be found through a blood test. The HIV epidemic is also a human belief epidemic, with all the social behavior that accompanies a terrifying plague.
That is the background for the book Chanda’s Secrets, by Allan Stratton.
Chanda’s Secrets takes place in an unnamed southern African country, and Chanda herself is the sixteen-year-old protagonist.
Chanda’s baby sister has died. Her mother disappears. And no one will discuss the reasons behind any of this to her face. It is all a secret.
To add more difficulties, Chanda’s best friend Esther, whose parents died of cancer and tuberculosis, has changed. She’s gotten, in the terms used by the local gossip leader, “wild”.
Death is intimately woven through life in Chanda’s part of Africa. Death happens suddenly and often. But her sister’s death is different. And Esther is different.
AIDS is the term no one in Bonang, Chanda’s town, wants to say out loud. No one wants to get close to anyone who may have the disease. Anyone known to be infected, or when an infection is suspected, finds themselves ostracized in a culture where interdependence is a necessary part of survival.
It is through the effects of this disease and the societal reaction to it that Chanda finds herself navigating. At sixteen, she is too young to be forced into this impromptu advocacy, but she is also the right age for the effort and self-assuredness necessary to effect the beginning of any change.
Chanda’s Secrets is taught in many schools as an unparalleled insight into the societal toll of an epidemic that everyone wants to hide. A movie based on the book, Life Above All, stays very close to the storyline and is an excellent option to anyone without the time available to read the novel.