This is the last line of the first installment of Bock’s series on AIDS in Africa:

“For two days and two nights, while the men tend the fire outside, the women inside will clap and leap and cry, their grief amplified by the acoustics of a corrugated metal roof and the sorrow of so many mothers who’ve lost so many daughters so far.”

The first installment is a scene of grief, and an exhortation to readers to look within (not beyond) numbers: Once you’ve heard Ruth’s mother cry, Bock writes, you’ll never think about the number 2.3 million in the same way again (2.3 million being the number of people with AIDS in Africa at the time the piece was written).

What we find remarkable about this series is the way that Bock openly states her mission to reveal the tragedy of AIDS in Africa, to make us feel, and yet her ability to do so without being mawkish or maudlin. We believe she pulls this off in part because of the distance that cross-cultural reporting naturally imposes—she must work harder, in a sense, to get us to feel—and simply because Bock writes well. She can openly exhort us to care because her writing has authority, an authority gained through extensive reporting, scene detail and masterful sentences like this one that ends the piece: “The sun slams down, insects buzz, a pregnant moon rises over Mabvuku’s famous red earth, the damned fertile earth.”

Read “In Her Mother’s Shoes,” by Paula Bock

Most popular articles from Nieman Storyboard