The Story of an AIDS Orphan in America….Not Africa


BY HANA KAJIMURA

Summer is the only time of the year that I get to read for pleasure. Don’t get me wrong, my classes have introduced me to world-class literature, but there’s something freeing and relaxing about reading your own book on your own time– I just wish I had more of it.

My summer reading list keeps growing: from Kathryn Stockett’s The Help to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Price (I never got past book 5). Yesterday, while scanning headlines for new titles, I was hooked by a blurb on msnbc.com:

“[Abdul] is like the second generation of the AIDS epidemic,” Sapphire said in a telephone interview with TODAY.com. “He’s an orphan. You hear the term ‘AIDS orphan’ and you think about Africa, but how about Alabama? Atlanta? Upstate New York?”

The Kid, Sapphire’s follow up to Push (you may recognize it as the 2009 Academy Award-winning film Precious), tells the story of Abdul, Claireece “Precious” Jones’s HIV-positive son. The novel opens with Precious’s funeral. Abdul is 9 years old. Sounds pretty tragic, huh? According to Sapphire, the heartbreak is deliberate.

“I don’t know how to write about these things without being as poetic and as graphic as possible. … A lot of these stories are written in this clinical journalism. Why do we have to hear about these things in language that deadens us? What I have attempted to do as an artist is to make people not be able to forget it, not be able to turn away and say, ‘Well, that’s just how it is.’”

Sapphire strives to elicit a cringe at every turn. And I admit, it’s not pretty. Even I closed my eyes, even covered my ears, during many scenes. The images are painful and frequent, and I could not help but breathe a sigh of relief when the credits rolled. It may have been hard for me to watch, but I cannot begin to imagine how hard it is for Sapphire’s characters—those living in poverty, with HIV, without a home—to live. I remember that these are real images, real lives lost, a depiction of a grotesque reality.

And just like that, Sapphire succeeds in her goal. Though her words are gritty and raw, though her images are sad and painful, they stick. I haven’t been able to forget Precious’s story, and I hope not to forget Abdul’s either. Maybe Sapphire’s art is the kind we need to shift the world’s attention to HIV/AIDS—unsettling, but real.

Below is a link to an interview with Sapphire, to get a little more insight on her and the stories of Precious and Abdul:

At the time Precious is diagnosed with HIV, African American women who were diagnosed with HIV were dying at a higher rate than white gay men,” said Sapphire. “For Precious to have made it as long as she did, to age 27, was a miracle.” ( http://articles.philly.com/2011-07-03/news/29733195_1_sapphire-social-realism-novel )

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