Sunday, August 20, 2017

Five Things I Learned From "We Are All The Same" by Jim Wooten

list of five things i learned from reading the book we are all the same by jim wooten

Non fiction is one of my absolute favorite genres to read. As amazing as fiction authors can be at setting a scene, imagining vivid characters and situations that explore ideas and emotions - real life "true" stories have a lasting impact that is incredibly difficult for me to find in literary fiction. That impact was definitely felt after I finished reading "We Are All the Same" by Jim Wooten. This book shares the story of Nkosi Johnson, a young South African boy who was born with HIV, and how his courage and determination, as well as his bond with the white South African woman who adopted him, brought attention to such an important issue at an incredibly crucial time.

Keep reading to explore the five things I learned from reading " We Are All The Same" by Jim Wooten and to find out if you would like to read this book, too!

We Are All The Same
Jim Wooten

goodreads // library// amazon

In 1989, the year that Mandela was released from prison, a Zulu baby named Nkosi was born HIV-positive to a teen single mother dying of AIDS. Wooten, ABC News senior correspondent, tells Nkosi's family story of hope and heartbreak in a clear dramatic narrative that personalizes the apartheid politics as well as the present devastating statistics and the struggle against prejudice. At age 2, the sick little boy was taken in by a loving white family, and with the support of his activist foster mother, Gail, he became a famous public figure in the battle against discrimination. He won the legal right to attend school. At 11, shortly before he died, he gave an electrifying speech to an international audience. Wooten gets close to the dying child and his white family, and he writes passionately about Gail's fight and about President Mbeki's absurd denial that has enraged the health profession. Most haunting is the breakup of black family life stretching back across generations, the desperation of the teen who gets AIDS and gives it to her son. (Booklist)

1. First and foremost is the heart of "We Are All the Same", Nkosi Johnson. 

The title of the book, "We Are All The Same", is a quote taken from a speech that Nkosi gave at an AIDS conference shortly before his passing. Nkosi defied the odds from the beginning, and at the time of his death, he had lived longer than any other child born with HIV in South Africa. Nkosi's story began with Daphne, his birth mother, being infected with the HIV virus when she gave birth to Nkosi - thereby infecting him. When Nkosi's mother's health faltered from AIDS, she gave him to a care home run by Gail Johnson. Gail, a white South African woman, was incredibly motivated to help the people of Africa who she saw suffering from AIDS- and was especially taken with Nkosi. Reading this story, it is impossible to resist the charms of Nkosi and the beautiful bond that he has with his adoptive mother, Gail. This book is particularly powerful and embodies one of my favorite traits of nonfiction because it teaches you about AIDS in South Africa while also engaging you emotionally in the true story of someone so small, and so kind, and so wonderful. My heart just ached for both Nkosi and Gail, and all the people of South Africa who were, and still are, suffering.

2. I learned so much about South African history

The author of "We Are All The Same", Jim Wooten, did a remarkable job explaining apartheid and summarizing the effects this had on South Africa. Prior to reading this book, I was not aware of how apartheid had come to be, or its effect on the families of black South Africans. In particular, the author showed the role apartheid came to play in the AIDS epidemic in South Africa in the late 1980s as Nelson Mandela is released from prison and becomes president. If you are curious about this region and its history, I highly recommend this book!

3. Sobering statistical analysis of AIDS

quote about AIDS from the book we all the same by jim wooten
I was three in 1989 when AIDS took hold of Africa. To say that I am privileged to be so completely unaware of just how horrifying of an effect AIDS had there is an understatement. The statistics the author included in the book are particularly moving in part, because of Nkosi's story. Each time I read a new statistic about the number of orphans from AIDS or the number of children infected- I thought of how lucky Nkosi is and felt incredibly grateful to Gail for caring for him. But as quickly as the warmth of knowing Nkosi was safe washed over me, I was struck by an unmovable sadness for all of the other children who were not Nkosi. Those millions and millions of scared, helpless children who were unable to receive the same level of kindness and care they each deserved.

4. South African political nightmare

My ignorance of South African politics, and my naïveté, led me to a very unrealistic picture of Africa prior to reading "We Are All The Same". Before reading the book I had imagined Africa as being receptive to any kind of help they could receive- that the problem was simply the demand, and the impossible task of providing a sufficient amount of resources to battle AIDS there. The truth is that there were an immense number of factors playing against the people of South Africa that kept them from receiving the medication and protection so necessary to help the area- political, religious, and social. Most infuriating to me was the role their president, Thabo Mbeki played. He would vacillate between denying the existence of AIDS, continually refusing life-saving drugs be provided to his people, and insisting repeatedly that AIDS was created by the west to hurt Africa. You can sense the frustration everyone felt towards the president reading "We Are All The Same", Nkosi included, as they tried to help a country while the powers that be seemed to work so adamantly against them.

5. Tearful moments throughout the book 

Unsurprisingly, there were a handful of tearful moments for me throughout this book. One that took me by surprise and really moved me, was a meeting between Nkosi and Robin Williams. Nkosi described Williams as, " The funniest man, I think, in all the world". Recounting their time together saying that, " He made me laugh a lot. He made me laugh until sometimes my body was hurting. He made me laugh so much I spit out my water once. Maybe twice. I was laughing very much at Robin. I think he liked me. I think Robin is my friend." "We Are All The Same" was published in 2004- and it struck me that both Nkosi and the author, Jim Wooten, could never have known about Williams's personal emotional struggles at that time, as we do in 2017. And the combination of knowing this, coupled with Nkosi's joy meeting Robin, just really got to me!

quote about AIDS from the book we are all the same by jim wooten

I so enjoyed reading "We Are All The Same" by Jim Wooten, and I encourage you to read it as well! If you are interested in reading this book, click here to find a copy at your local library, or click below to view the book on Amazon.


  1. I know what you mean about non fiction!! These books sound truly interesting, you have presented them in such a captivating way!⭐️✨
    X finja /


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