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Hope in Hell: Inside the World of Doctors Without Borders

by Dan Bortolotti

It would be difficult to write a dull book about Doctors Without Borders, the renowned international medical relief organization that won the 1999 Nobel Prize for Peace. Hope in Hell doesn’t disappoint, providing many a gripping tale as it describes how the group manages to care for patients in the most inhospitable and dangerous corners of the earth. While it’s not the first book about the organization, Hope in Hell offers a solid read and clear, serviceable language, meaning it will no doubt interest a wide swath of readers.

Dan Bortolotti covers everything from the group’s more prosaic activities, such as building a health station and indulging in bureaucratic wrangling, through terrifying accounts of crossing checkpoints manned by drugged-out child soldiers and dealing with kidnappings and killings of the organization’s own staff and volunteers. The book also manages to debunk the idea that the volunteers are heroes or mavericks, while showing how startlingly messed up they can be when they return to their normal lives.

Hope in Hell could use a clearer narrative thread, and a better sense of why certain anecdotes and chapters are grouped as they are. Moreover, because the book contains references to so many different missions in various countries, it’s occasionally hard to keep track of what happened where – though perhaps that’s just the nature of this complex beast.

One major point that should have been rendered more clearly is the organization’s position on whether it should decry the human rights abuses it witnesses or remain neutral in order to ensure access to its patients. Much of this confusion stems from the group’s long-running internal conflict on the matter, but still, after 300 pages, it would be nice to come away with a better idea of where Doctors Without Borders stands on such a key issue.