Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Book Review: A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story, by Linda Sue Park (Clarion Books, 2010)
Release date: November 15, 2010
The end of the calendar year is a busy time for most people, but don't allow yourself to miss this incredibly moving novel by Newbery-award winning novelist Linda Sue Park.
A Long Walk to Water is based on the true story of Salva, one of a group of Sudanese "Lost Boys" who eventually emigrated to the United States in the mid-1990's. Park's account of Salva's life begins in 1985, when Salva is eleven years old. Things were good for Salva's family before the civil war; his family was affluent, with many heads of cattle, and could afford to send each of their sons to school. But because Salva's at school when the war comes to his village, he is separated from the rest of his family, and begins a long and brutal journey by foot to safety. Meeting up with members of his Dinka tribe, he joins their group, walking east toward Ethiopia.
During the journey, he must confront hungry lions, scarce water, crossing the Nile in hand-made canoes, swarms of mosquitos, and the most difficult part of their journey: crossing the unforgiving Akobo desert. He spends six years in the Ethiopian refugee camp, before their government decides to close the camp, driving the residents with guns out of the camp and across the Gilo River, well known for its crocodiles. Miraculously surviving the crossing, Salva makes up his mind to walk to Kenya--and becomes the de facto leader of a group of about 1,500 boys, some as young as five. More than 1,200 arrived safely in Kenya, including Salva.
While in Kenya, Salva learns to read and speak English from an Irish aid worker, and eventually is chosen to be part of a special initiative to airlift over 3,000 boys and young men to America. Resettled in Rochester, New York, Salva goes on to found Water for Sudan, a non-profit which brings clean water to the parched regions of the south of his country.
Alternating with Salva's story, Park weaves in the story of a contemporary girl in Sudan, Nya, who must walk for eight hours each day to fetch water for her family, water which sometimes is contaminated and bears diseases. At the end, their two stories intersect, bringing hope, clean water, and education to Nya's village.
This slim but unforgettable book (120 pages) tells Salva and Nya's stories in a spare style, with no wasted words or descriptions. Like many stories about Holocaust victims, this book celebrates the tenacity of the human spirit, capable of maintaining hope and finally triumphing over incredible adversity. It's a story you won't quickly be able to forget, and I would highly recommend it for adults, teens, and children over ten. Park includes an afterword by Salva Dut himself which provides some information on his project, Water for Sudan, and an author's note with additional historical background on the civil war in Sudan.
An aside--it's a bit odd to be reading this book about the saving grace of water in the midst of the worst Los Angeles rainstorm I can ever remember--apparently some isolated areas have received up to 20 inches of rain. Luckily no leaks in our roof--as far as we know, anyway.
Here's a link to the book trailer, featuring an interview with Linda Sue Park.
To learn more about Salva's life and his current work in Sudan, see Water for Sudan's website.
The "lost boys of Sudan" are also the subject of many books and films, including this critically acclaimed documentary.