Rough Sleepers : Dr. Jim O'Connell's Urgent Mission to Bring Healing to Homeless People By Tracy Kidder.

In his 1942 essay : '' The Myth of Sisyphus, '' the philosopher Albert Camus reinterpreted the legend of the Greek king condemned by the gods to push a boulder up a hill over and over, insisting that, in the face of life's absurdity, ''one must imagine Sisyphus happy.''

In '' Rough Sleepers, '' the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tracy Kidder offers another twist on this ancient legend, urging us to imagine Sisyphus as a doctor who treats America's homeless.

'' Rough Sleepers '' follows Dr.Jim O'Connell, a Camus-quoting, onetime philosophy graduate student turned Harvard-trained physician, who, since 1985, has been treating Boston's most vulnerable unhoused population : 

The city's '' rough sleepers '' [ a 19th-century Britishism and Dr. Jim's preferred term], men and women who dwell mostly out of doors, on the margins of the margins - in parks, in subway tunnels, on sidewalks.

In an increasingly expensive, gentrifying Boston, these people inhabit a uniquely hellish landscape. Bedding down outside, they die at 10 times the rate as housed Bostonians.

They die of overdoses, of being set on fire, of being beaten to death, of suicide, of falling asleep in the snow and never waking up.

'' The best feeling in my life, the best feeling, was going to sleep,'' says one, Tony Columbo [ a pseudonym; Kidder has changed the names of many of Dr. Jim's patients], after he overdoses on Fentanyl.

The worst feeling was waking back up. To realize, first of all, that tomorrow there's no such thing as religion or God ........... It's just that I want to disappear.''

The book, a chronicle of Dr. Jim's work and the city's unsheltered population as seen through his eyes, is at its most moving when Kidder camera zooms in tight on the semi-dysfunctional relationship between Dr.Jim and Tony, who look to each other for solace from the horrors they have witnessed and experienced on the streets.

As '' Rough Sleepers '' progresses, their relationship becomes its primary focus, culminating in a brutal revelation that may provide the key to unlocking the mystery of why, exactly, Tony has been on the streets so long.

Tony makes for a profane foil to the saintly, sometimes sentimental Dr. Jim : 

A middle-aged, 6-foot-4 Italian American from the North End who has been homeless for several years, ever since he got out of prison in 2013, after serving nearly two decades for assault and attempted rape.

In the years since his release, Tony has learned to train his anger on himself, even as he chivalrously protects those around him.

The World Students Society thanks review author The New York Times.


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