Global Healing

Literature, Advocacy, Care


Read an interview with Karen Thornber.

In Global Healing: Literature, Advocacy, Care, Karen Laura Thornber analyzes how narratives from diverse communities globally engage with a broad variety of diseases and other serious health conditions and advocate for empathic, compassionate, and respectful care that facilitates healing and enables wellbeing.

The three parts of this book discuss writings from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Oceania that implore societies to shatter the devastating social stigmas which prevent billions from accessing effective care; to increase the availability of quality person-focused healthcare; and to prioritize partnerships that facilitate healing and enable wellbeing for both patients and loved ones.

Thornber’s Global Healing remaps the contours of comparative literature, world literature, the medical humanities, and the health humanities.

Watch a video interview with Thornber by the Mahindra Humanities Center, part of their conversations on Covid-19.

Read an interview with Thornber on Brill's Humanities Matter blog.

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Karen Laura Thornber, Ph.D. (2006), Harvard, is Harry Tuchman Levin Professor in Literature and Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard. Her publications include Empire of Texts in Motion (2009), Ecoambiguity (2012), several (co)edited volumes, translations, and more than 70 articles/chapters.
"At once a vigorous re-framing of Medical Humanities, and a vigorous challenge to World Literature as it is currently defined, Global Healing offers a new geography, a new methodology, and a new archive, connecting the Americas to Asia and Africa, and, through that expanded sphere of analysis, speaking to the world's health crisis with a new urgency and authority."
- Wai Chee Dimock, Yale University

"All too infrequently a book is published that redirects the inquiries of multiple fields. This is such a book. Global Healing is an extraordinarily huge book not merely in word count but far more so in scope, depth, and vision. Global vision is easy to say but extremely difficult to achieve. Global Healing does so. It is essential reading for those working in Asian studies, African studies, global studies, and especially medical humanities, health humanities, and bioethics."
- Jing-Bao Nie, University of Otago

"Karen Thornber has written a tour de force. It is difficult to imagine a book more sweeping in its scope and successful in its ambitions. Global Healing is essential reading for health humanists, as well as literary critics, historians, and health professionals who think seriously about the promise of the humanities for health."
- Sari Altschuler, Northeastern University, author of The Medical Imagination

"Karen Thornber’s Global Healing is a major achievement that will have a critical impact on both the medical humanities and global literary studies. Ranging across traditional boundaries of east and west, north and south, with erudition, clarity, and compassion, Thornber powerfully demonstrates how literature illuminates the most essential elements of the experience of illness, as well as the limits of our medical and social approaches to its alleviation."
- Allan M. Brandt, Harvard University, author of The Cigarette Century

"Karen Thornber has written the most extraordinary book. It is an account of global literature written from and by those experiencing, caring for, and thinking with pain, suffering and healing. But pride of place goes to works in Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Urdu, Arabic, and by writers in Africa, Oceania, Latin America and South Asia about whom even experts in global health and medical humanities will know very little. Counterposing these works with deep and original readings of Sontag, Roth, Coetzee, Fadiman, Gawande, and other well-known Western writers leads to surprising and powerful insights on the human experiences of sickness and care that will convince anyone who needs convincing how essential comparative literature is in the current debates on health care. Reading footnotes that review telling original accounts of human experiences in Korean and what happens to them when translated into Urdu, Chinese and English will upset taken for granted theories and suggest new ones. This is especially true for stigma and leprosy, AIDS, and dementia. But this is not only a book about ideas, but a vade mecum of actions, reactions, reforms, advocacy and policy. A veritable museum of global literatures on what the human experience and meanings of health, suffering and care are that can claim greater comparative cross- cultural validity than anything I have read. An immense and unique achievement!"
Arthur Kleinman, Harvard University, author of The Soul of Care
Acknowledgements Introduction  1Comparative Literature, World Literature, Global Literature
 2Literature and Medicine, Medical and Health Humanities
 3The Chapters

Part 1: Shattering Stigmas

Introduction: Exposing Stigmas1Legacies of Leprosy  1Leprosy, Christianity, Europe
 2Imperialism, Segregation, Hawai‘i, Nigeria
 3Leprosy and East Asia
 4Propagating Prejudices
 5Countering Violence
 5.1Leprosy Narratives and Hawai‘i
 5.2Japanese and Korean Stories of Leprosy
 5.3Paradise Reconsidered in Yi Ch’ŏngjun’s Your Paradise
 5.4Betrayal and the Urdu Translation of Your Paradise
 5.5Leprosaria as Refuge – Ola Rotimi’s Hopes of the Living Dead
2 AIDS , National Fear, Literary Production  1 HIV / AIDS – The Global Epidemic
 2South Africa – Silence, Secrets, Accusations
 3Tanzania and Kenya – Denials, Allegations, Vulnerability
 4China – Innocence, Guilt, Social Control
 5The United States – Indictments, Activism, Understanding
3 AIDS Stigmas, Fear, Care
 1Deterring Advocacy, Activism, and Education
 2Deferring Responsibility
 3Obstructing Timely Testing and Medical Treatment
 4Forestalling Support
 5Destroying Landscapes
Entr’acte: Confronting the Stigmas of Alzheimer’s

Part 2: Humanizing Healthcare

Introduction: Person-Focused Care – Advocacy, Respect, Compassion, Empathy, Healing  1Calls for Patient-Centered Care
 2Person-Focused Care – Empathy, Cultural Humility, Compassion, Healing
 3Challenges to Person-Focused Care
 4Narrative Interventions
4Contrasts in Care  1Exposing Disparities
 2Asserting Humanity
 3Voicing Despair
 4Articulating Change
5Speaking For, Not With
 1Stories Dismissed
 2Stories without Words
 3Stories without Memories
 4Differences Denied
6 Medically Treating, Not Healing
 1Transforming Medicine – Women Physicians and Healing
 2Saving without Healing
 3Temporarily Curing without Healing
 4Accentuating Violence, Impeding Healing
7Interventions in Dying
 1Easing Death
 1.1On the Right to Decline Death-Prolonging Care
 1.2On the Right to Life-Ending Care
 2Conundrums of Cure
 2.1Sacrifices in Discovering and Developing Cures
 2.2The Paradoxical Precariousness of Cure

Part 3: Prioritizing Partnerships

Introduction: Healing Partnerships8Promoting Partnerships in Living, Sharing Care
 1Integrating Support – Patients, Loved Ones, Health Professionals, Societies
 2Truth Telling – Patients, Loved Ones, Health Professionals
 3Eschewing Medical Treatment – Patients, Loved Ones
 4All about Elephants
9Providing Partnerships in Dying, Easing Death
 1Partnerships Interrupted
 2Partnerships Criminalized
 3Partnerships Redefined
Students and scholars of comparative literature, world literature, medical humanities, and health humanities; health professionals, students, and others interested in arts/literature and medicine; anyone interested in literature promoting healing care.
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