There Is No Me Without You One Woman's Odyssey to Rescue Africa's Children

Melissa Fay Greene

Bloomsbury USA




496 Pages



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A Chicago Tribune Best Book

An American Library Association Notable Book of the Year
A Booksense Notable Book
A Christian Science Monitor Best Book
A Lukas Prize Finalist

When Haregwoin Teferra's husband and twenty-three-year-old daughter died within a few years of each other, her middle-class life in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was shattered. Bereft and with little to live for, Haregwoin became a recluse. Her self-imposed exile to a hut near her daughter's grave was interrupted when a priest delivered first one, then another, orphaned teenager into her care. To everyone's surprise, the children thrived, and so did Haregwoin. As word spread, children of all ages began to appear at her modest home: an infant brought by a dying mother, an orphaned brother and sister whose grandfather was too poor to feed them, a baby left on her doorstep. Haregwoin's small compound became known as the rare place where ailing parents and impoverished families could safely leave their children. Soon Haregwoin was caring for sixty children, running an unofficial orphanage and day school, and learning first-hand about her country's and her continent's greatest challenge: the AIDS pandemic that is leaving millions of children without parents to care for them.

Melissa Fay Greene gets to the heart of the AIDS crisis. The story of Haregwoin and her children: a story of struggle and despair, but also of the triumph of saved lives, and the renewed happiness of children welcomed by adoptive parents in Ethiopia, America, and around the world.


Praise for There Is No Me Without You

"The tragedy of AIDS in Ethiopia comes into sharp focus in Melissa Fay Greene's powerful new book, There Is No Me Without You. Greene, who lives with her family in Atlanta, tackles the terrifying truth that in 2005, Ethiopia counted among its population 1.5 million AIDS orphans. Officials estimate some 12 million children have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS in all of sub-Saharan Africa . . . Greene shares the courageous yet complex story of Haregwoin Teferra, a foster-care provider in Addis Ababa. This woman on the frontlines, Greene writes, was ‘an ordinary citizen, a middle-class, middle-aged woman, who suddenly found herself toe-to-toe with the worst epidemic in history.'"—Robin Michaelson, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Like the very best literature, There Is No Me Without You charts the human condition in all its extremes—passion and cruelty, greed and courage— through the narrative arc of an ordinary person thrust into a vortex. In this tale, the vortex is a viral plague, wrongly blamed on sex, inadvertently spread by a tool invented to eradicate disease and prolonged by an industry that chose to let people suffer and die because it would not risk its profit margins . . . This book is an extraordinary portrait of this exemplary woman."—B.T. Shaw, San Diego Union-Tribune

"If Greene did not have such lovely (and true) stories to share, the heartwrenching facts about Africa's AIDS orphans outlined in this book would be more than the average reader could bear. The stark truth, Greene reminds us, is that 'for most of Africa's ten million, fifteen million, twenty million orphans, no one is getting a room ready. No one will come.' This is an extremely grim topic somehow shaped into a truly inspiring book. There Is No Me Without You is the story of an unlikely heroine, a squat, bossy, middle-class Ethiopian woman who paid little heed to the AIDS crisis threatening her country until it took the life of her daughter . . . Greene is a fine writer, a two-time National Book Award nominee, and There Is No Me Without You is the happy occasion of wonderful and weighty material meeting a gifted narrator . . . Greene very effectively portrays a woman whose character blends great generosity with unthinking arrogance, an ordinary woman pushed into heroism by the demands of her time and situation. The book also offers heartwrenching portraits of innocent young lives in wretched distress. The description of small children wailing hopelessly for their missing parents (and this is something Haregwoin faced daily) is beyond devastating. But there is a rich reward for readers—and Haregwoin—as a few of the cases that seem most hopeless meet with breathtakingly happy endings. For anyone concerned about children's issues, anyone who has ever considered international adoption, or those of us who simply like to believe that one individual can shine a healing light in the dark, this is a story not to be missed."—Marjorie Kehe, The Christian Science Monitor

"Greene's book is important because she swings skillfully from the microstory in Teferra's compound to the global story of AIDS, tucking in a lucid skim of Ethiopian history and plenty of data from the 'speakathons' of international AIDS conferences . . . The book concludes with a unique adoption, told in an unexpected sequence of remarkable beauty and power. It answers some key questions, and left me gasping."—Karen Long, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

"In 2000, journalist Melissa Fay Greene read about the African AIDS pandemic in The New York Times: 12 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa already and 25 million to 50 million predicted by 2010. The 'ridiculous' numbers, according to Greene, raised a question she couldn't get out of her head—a question that eventually led to her book, There Is No Me Without You: 'Who was going to raise 12 million children?' Related questions make up one of the most poignant and poetic passages in a harrowing, beautiful book . . . Greene ably dons the mantle of historian, recounting Ethiopian history; and that of the science writer, exploring the origins of the AIDS virus; and of the social commentator, taking to task the drug companies and Western politicians who should have done more much sooner to help avert disaster. She writes simply and declaratively but also cleverly."—Bill Eichenberger, The Columbus Dispatch

"The horrific numbers behind the AIDS pandemic in Africa, 'the most terrible epidemic in human history,' have little resonance for most people in the West: 'the ridiculous numbers wash over most of us.' But this searing account humanizes the statistics through heartbreaking, intimate stories of what it is like for young orphans left alone in Ethiopia. Greene's story focuses on one rescuer, Haregwoin Teferra, who has opened her home and compound in a rickety hillside neighborhood of Addis Ababa and taken in hundreds of the untouchables thrown in the streets and left at her door. She cannot turn them away. Yes, the comparisons with Mother Teresa are there, but this is no hagiography; the middle-aged Teferra is 'just an average person with a little more heart.' Greene tells the stories in unforgettable vignettes of loss, secrecy, panic, stigma, and, sometimes, hope, even as she documents the big picture of 'the human landslide,' the history and science of epidemiology and transmission, and expresses her fury at the 'crimes against humanity' of the multinational drug companies whose expensive patents have denied millions access to the life-saving medicines. Just as moving are the personal stories of international adoptions in the U. S., including two Ethiopian children taken into Greene's own Atlanta family. The detail of one lost child at a time, who finds love, laughter, comfort, and connection, opens up the universal meaning of family."—Hazel Rochman, Booklist

"Not unlike the AIDS pandemic itself, the odyssey of Haregwoin Teferra, who took in AIDS orphans, began in small stages and grew to irrevocably transform her life from that of 'a nice neighborhood lady' to a figure of fame, infamy and ultimate restoration. In telling her story, journalist Greene who had adopted two Ethiopian children before meeting Teferra, juggles political history, medical reportage and personal memoir. While succinctly interspersing a history of Ethiopia, lucidly tracing the history of AIDS from its early manifestation as 'slim disease' in the late 1970s to its appearance as a bizarrely aggressive [form] of Kaposi's sarcoma in the early 1980s, and following the complex path of medication (a super highway in the West, a trail in Africa), Greene rescues Teferra from undeserved oblivion as well as rescuing her from undeserved obloquy (false accusations of child selling). As with her previous books, Greene takes a very close look at what appears to be the fringe of an important social event and illuminates the entire subject. Ethiopia is home to 'the second-highest concentration of AIDS orphans in the world'; even as some of the orphans find happy endings in American homes, Greene keeps the urgency of the greater crisis before us in this moving, impassioned narrative."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Melissa Fay Greene

  • Melissa Fay Greene is the author of Praying for Sheetrock, The Temple Bombing, and Last Man Out. Two of her books have been finalists for the National Book Award. She has written for The New Yorker, the Washington Post, the New York Times Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, Good Housekeeping, Newsweek, Life, Reader's Digest, Redbook, Salon, and others. She and her husband, Don Samuel, have seven children, including two adopted from Ethiopia, and are in the process of adopting two more. She lives in Atlanta.

  • Melissa Fay Greene © Judith Augustine