Brave Voices from the Dark Era of HIV/AIDS

Wise Before Their Time by Ann Richardson“When AIDS first hit the headlines in the early 1980s, there was widespread fear and ignorance. I remember an ernest young fisherman coming up to me on a beach in Sri Lanka in the summer of 1986, asking nervously whether one could catch AIDS from kissing.

These days, attitudes to the disease — and to the HIV virus that can lead to it — have changed considerably, partly because of more widespread scientific knowledge but largely because those who can access antiretroviral drugs (dispensed free to infected men and women in many countries, including the UK) can often live a normal life. AIDS is no longer an automatic death sentence.

So the context in which Ann Richardson has reissued her book of testimonies from people living with (or dying from) HIV/AIDS has changed considerably over the two decades since she and her (now deceased) collaborator, Dietmar Bolle, first produced it.

Nonetheless, there is a freshness and an immediacy in many of the spoken and written interviews with people of both genders, of different ages and from different cultures. The book is arranged thematically, covering major aspects of how people came to terms with their condition, who they told and how and the sort of support networks they developed — or their experiences of rejection and prejudice. The stories are often moving, even tear-inducing, and also occasionally funny. Yes, HIV/AIDS before drug therapy was a terrible plague, which particularly hit Western gay men and heterosexual Africans and their children.

But what comes over most strongly from many of the people who feature in this important book is their fortitude, in some cases their stoicism, and often intimations of real love.”

Jonathan Fryer

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