Through These Veins
A Novel by Anne Marie Ruff
2011 / 250 Pages
The Setup: In the coffee-growing highlands of Ethiopia, an Italian scientist on a plant collecting expedition discovers a local medicine man dispensing an apparent cure for AIDS. As the medicine man’s teenage daughter reveals the plants behind the cure, their lives become irrevocably intertwined. Through These Veins weaves together the dramatically different worlds of traditional healing, U.S. government funded AIDS research, and the pharmaceutical industry in an intensely personal, fast-paced tale of scientific intrigue and love, with both devastating and hopeful effect. (From the paperback edition)
Disclaimer: We received a copy of Through These Veins from author Anne Marie Ruff’s publicist. While grateful for the opportunity to read this title, this act had no bearing whatsoever on the final review. What follows below are our honest thoughts and opinions about the novel.
Through These Veins is a gorgeous globe-spanning novel that follows the lives of several characters who are involved in the discovery of a potential cure for the AIDS virus. Not a new cocktail, not a new therapy, an out-and-out eradication of the virus from the bloodstreams of those who have become infected.
The journey starts in Washington D.C. in the year 2004 with the revelation that thanks to the help of an Italian botanist named Stefano Geotti, researcher Dr. Robert Kresovich may have just stumbled upon the scientific breakthrough of a lifetime. It then quickly flashes backward to Geotti’s time spent in a small village in Ethiopia and his discovery that through trial-and-error and a keen knowledge of the local plant life, a doctor there may have come across a natural recipe for killing the disease. Intrigued, Geotti collects some samples and sends them off to Kresovich for further evaluation.
This isn’t really Geotti or Kresovich’s tale however. Instead Ruff introduces readers to two amazingly well written female characters, the pharmaceutical representative Ruth and the daughter of the village doctor Zahara. How their two paths cross and the trials and tribulations they must attempt to conquer together are what take center stage as the race to develop a cure becomes crucial to both their lives.
There’s a significant amount of time spent on describing the inhaling and exhaling of air from the lungs of many of the characters in Through These Veins. While it’s first introduced as purely an Ethiopian phenomenon, the act of inhaling is meant to represent a level of understanding, as the novel progresses it seems to take on an even deeper meaning: enjoy every breath, because it just might be your last. There’s a sense of anticipation that hangs over the proceedings here, but there’s also a palpable sense of dread that accompanies it, lurking just out sight, waiting patiently behind closed doors and around corners for its chance to pounce on the unsuspecting.
There’s also (with the exception of the head of the pharmaceutical company) a strong cast of brilliantly nuanced and varied characters that the reader can’t help but attach themselves to. This sense of anticipation, combined with fully realized characters that leap off the page and a compelling story make for an engaging read. Think Robert J. Sawyer meets Ann Patchett.
Where the novel flounders a bit however is in its reliance on coincidence to push the plot forward.
The characters are in a race to find an important thing? Ha! It was just kicked at them! Something is all gone and lost forever? Ha! The one truck they need just happened to drive past them while they were taking a coffee break!
Still, placing these awkward moments to the side, Through These Veins does paint an interesting and timely portrait of today’s global economy as it takes a sharp look at the profound effect deforestation and the destruction of who knows how many as of yet un-cataloged species of plant life has on our ability to successfully manufacture synthetic drugs. Ruff isn’t content to just stop there however, she also turns her keen eye on the pharmaceutical industry and their business driven practices. It is only logical, after all, to manufacture a cure if there’s a significant financial benefit attached to doing so, correct?
Finally, she wisely makes things personal by introducing a moral dilemma. If you alone had the access and the power to cure a friend or a loved one of this horrible disease would you risk your career and your research efforts to do so?
Through These Veins is currently available as a paperback and Kindle only e-book. What gives? In this day and age of the digital reader why anyone would willingly choose to limit the distribution of their book in this way is a bit of head scratcher. I own a nook simple touch and I wanted to read this digitally, but I obviously I could not unless I wanted to use an app and read it from an LCD screen (no thanks.) In the end I read the physical copy that was sent and also bought a digital copy from Amazon, something I almost never do when it comes to books, because I was assured that all profits from the sale would 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. Worthy causes indeed. Still, I strongly urge the publisher to get an ePub version out so that every other retailer in the world whose name isn’t Amazon can offer this impressive novel for digital sale as well.