“I don’t have the words to explain how important this is.”
This sentence was taken from a review of my book about people with HIV and AIDS in the 1990s, Wise Before their Time.
Suddenly, the disease no one has talked about for years is everywhere. No, not as a new epidemic, but as the focus of popular culture.
In London, the French film BPM (original title: 120 Beats Per Minute) has opened and can be seen in fifteen different cinemas. It was premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017 and has been showing in numerous other countries for some time. It tells the stories of a set of young men involved with the French version of Act Up in the early 1990s.
It was very highly reviewed and won many awards, including the Grand Prix at Cannes. I saw it yesterday and it was very powerful.
Meanwhile, a week ago, a two-part play called The Inheritance opened at the Young Vic Theatre in London. Directed by Stephen Daldry, it depicts the lives of a set of young American gay men over a period of time, including the AIDS crisis. The Telegraph newspaper gave it 5* and said it was ‘perhaps the most important American play this century’. I have yet to see it.
It happens that I recently read How to Survive a Plague, by David France, although it is not just released. It is, again, about AIDS activists but this time in the United States, and was issued first as a movie (in 2012), and subsequently as a book (2016). It is well worth reading as it chronicles the drama of the period.
And this brings me to my own book, Wise Before their Time, in which over forty people with HIV and AIDS talk about their lives in their own words. First published in 1992, based on interviews at an international conference of people with HIV and AIDS in 1991, it was re-launched last year to great acclaim. Have a look on Amazon, it has received nothing but 5 star reviews.
Ian McKellen wrote a Foreword in which he said “These stories are as powerful as any great classic of fiction”. That’s a good start.
And what do the reviews say? Many stress its importance, as in the title to this post. One reviewer wrote “This book’s intrinsic historical and cultural value is invaluable.”
Many explain the nature of the stories “often moving, even tear-inducing, and also occasionally funny” and “an honest, moving picture which touches a reader’s heart”.
And one urges “Do read this book. If not for anything else then just to understand and appreciate the beauty of being healthy and being alive!”