In 1994, the year Ruit opened his eye hospital in Kathmandu, there were 24,000 cataract operations in Nepal. In 2007, there were 167,000, and the number of new cataracts diagnosed annually has declined sharply thanks to successful treatment of the country’s visually impaired residents. By his wife’s count, Ruit has performed more than 80,000 surgeries, and he and Tabin have trained hundreds of eye surgeons from other developing countries.
Relin’s earlier blockbuster, Three Cups of Tea, provoked controversy in 2011 when Greg Mortenson, his co-author and the book’s protagonist, was accused of having fabricated parts of the story of his exploits in Pakistan and Afghanistan and of having misused donations to the charity he had founded, the Central Asia Institute. A class action lawsuit accusing Mortenson, Relin and the book’s publisher of defrauding readers was dismissed last year, but Mortenson agreed to repay the charity more than $1 million.
Ruit’s and Tabin’s achievements appear to be well documented, and their dedication is impressive. Second Suns is about 20 percent too long, with too many repetitive descriptions. Relin took his own life last year, at age 49, a fact especially sad in view of the passionate, persuasive case he makes for one person’s ability to make a difference in the world. He compares Tabin’s personal transformation to the Buddhist image of a wave realizing it is part of the sea, not an independent being. “He was water, at one with this ocean of humanity who looked toward him and Ruit with such hope,” Relin writes. “He was here because he was needed. And now he needed to get to work.”
Susan Okie reviewed this book for The Washington Post.