A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park is a fictionalized version of two related stories in the recent history of Sudan. It tells two parallel stories, one in the 1980s and the other just a few years ago.

In the early story, a young boy caught in the crossfires of the Southern Sudan Civil War.The other story parallel story told in alternating chapters is about a young Sudanese girl in 2009 whose job is to walk from her village to the water at the somewhat nearby pond and walk home again, twice each day. With an interesting twist, the two stories are able to come together.Continue Reading

The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric (and Giveaway)

My grandfather was born in Hreljin in 1923, when it was Yugoslavia and in what is now Croatia. When I heard about Yugoslavian Ivo Andric’s 1945 novel The Bridge on the Drina, I had hoped for a glimpse of what life was like in my ancestor’s homeland during a tumultuous time. Although my grandfather’s home town is far from the Bosnia-Serbia border on which this novel takes place, it was still an interesting look at the complex history of the Balkans. I did not really enjoy reading the book, but it was somewhat interesting.Continue Reading

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown (published 1970, reissued in ebook form by OpenRoad Media) is an incredibly painful book to read. It is a straight-forward historical account of the last three decades of Native American Indians in the American West, an account of the great leaders and cultures that are no more.

Although I felt I had an understanding of the conflicts that happened in the American West during the 1800s, I feel now that I had no idea of the extent of the genocide. Before, I thought the Native American Indians tragically died out, due to disease and relocation. Now I see better that the local American government routinely slaughtered whole communities.

Brown’s book is written with the Native American perspective at the forefront, so of course there is bias. However, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is a well researched record of the American historical experience, and it is a vital text for Americans interested in learning the not-so-pretty truth about American history.Continue Reading

Sleepwalking Land by Mia Couto

Sleepwalking Land by Mia Couto1 blends two stories of seeking for one’s identity in the midst of war-torn Mozambique. In the first, an old man and a young orphaned boy have fled a refugee camp and seek shelter in a burned-out bus on the side of the road. Near a corpse, they find a set of journals written by Kindzu. These journals, which tell Kindzu’s story, form the bulk of the novel by portraying life during the Civil War2 in a fantastical magical realism setting.

I tend to enjoy reading magical realism because it mixes fantasy in to seemingly realistic settings and gives a story a very different feel3. In Sleepwalking Land, that not-straight forward feeling was perfect in providing me, a reader unfamiliar with both Mozambican history and life during a civil war, with a dream-like introduction to life in a confusing political and violent setting. I struggled to understand the reasons behind various violence and betrayals, and yet I realized that understand the context absolutely did not matter: Couto’s book instead illustrated how life (such as it was) continued for the people in the land, and the confused tone of what was real or not provided a perfect atmosphere for the hopelessness of the era.
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  1. First published in 1992 in Portuguese as Terra Sonâmbula; translated by David Brookshaw and published in English in 2006.
  2. According to Wikipedia, the Mozambique Civil War lasted from 1977 (upon freedom from colonialism) until about 1992)
  3. I must point out, however, that as in most magical realism, there is a fair amount of sexuality in this book. I personally didn’t find it very tastefully written this time…