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Nonfiction in Brief

AIDS The Ultimate Challenge by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (Macmillan: $17.95)

February 07, 1988|ALEX RAKSIN

The triumph of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' AIDS workshops, as described in these pages, is that they help patients and their families learn to love unconditionally, no mean feat in an America that reserves its official affection for those who are "straight," not only in sexual behavior, but also in the degree to which they follow the competition ethic. In this respect, Kubler-Ross' message is applicable to all, just as her five-stage theory of human responses to dying, one of the few ideas from 1960s pop-psych that still seems sensible, has proven relevant for people experiencing other forms of loss.

"AIDS: The Ultimate Challenge" is bound to have its critics. The author's plucky spirit, undoubtedly vital in her clinical work, shows up here in a dismaying affinity for exclamation points. There are signs of hurried writing: conflicting information (at one point she says there are now "1-2 million" carriers of the HIV virus; at another, "between 1.5 and 3 million"), incautious analogies (AIDS patients, she writes, are like the Jews in Nazi concentration camps) and cursory chapters (the five-page section on "Women and AIDS" focuses exclusively on one woman carrier whose problems aren't "feminine").

These oversights seem small, however, when measured against Kubler-Ross' wise counsel. She's able to develop a heartening environment in her workshops despite her own anger toward prison officials who ignored her early warnings about the disease and people living near her Virginia farm who protested her plan to build a hospice there for children with AIDS. And while she's sometimes tough, campaigning against Valium and other ways of "desensitizing us to death," she's not coldly secular: "I gave him a butterly, the symbol of our transition, and explained to him that we only leave the physical body . . . the soul leaves and will be whole again after what we call death."

WOMEN AND AIDS by Diane Richardson (Methuen: $25, cloth ; $8.95, paper ) The more widely publicized statistics about AIDS in America tend to reinforce the notion that it's still primarily a disease of gay men: Women, most of them IV drug users, make up only 7% of AIDS patients. Citing some lesser-known statistics, however, the author, a social psychologist, makes a convincing case for this book: The number of women getting AIDS through heterosexual contact is increasing, from 18% of the cases in May, 1986, to 29% in May, 1987. In New York City alone, AIDS is already the leading cause of death of women aged 25-29. Yet, since Richardson is not a medical authority and since much of the data she cites about transmission and development of the HIV virus is still controversial, the book would have profited if sources were cited. This book also makes AIDS seem like several different diseases: one for women, another for children, and a third for lesbians. Psychological tips for each of these groups are different, of course, but virtually identical sections on methods of transmission are repeated in each chapter. This division, along with the author's hostile tone toward men ("How can a woman practice safe sex," the author writes, "when her male partner refuses to use condoms?") distracts from the fact that AIDS is a human disease.

SOUND OFF! American Military Women Speak Out by Dorothy and Carl Schneider (E. P. Dutton: $18.95)

Gaining the right to venture into enemy fire as an ambassador of America is a dubious triumph, but it is being offered to women to a much greater extent than the public is aware. In 1983, 200 U.S. Army women participated in the invasion of Grenada. Women commanders, co-pilots and navigators helped strike Libya in 1986. And in 1987, 248 women sailors went to the Persian Gulf to repair a destroyer damaged by Iraqi missiles. The much-cited "congressional exclusion policy" doesn't amount to much, the authors write, because it neither applies to women in the Army and Coast Guard nor precludes Navy and Air Force women from combat training and service in dangerous areas. The remaining laws, most of the women interviewed here believe, are likely to be nullified in the next five or 10 years. In the interim, there's sure to be much debate over whether military women are to be hailed as victors in the struggle for equality or criticized as collaborators in a patriarchal system.

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