Thursday, October 30, 2008

61. Tears of the Desert

by Halima Bashir
with Damien Louis


Subtitled “A Memoir of Survival in Darfur,” this Darfur memoir was better than The Translator, mostly because Bashir begins with her childhood as a member of the fierce Zaghawa tribe in Sudan. Her father is the wealthiest man in the village – they have a television, two radios, and a Land Rover – but Bashir is mostly fortunate in that he has more enlightened attitudes about his daughter. He sends her to an Arab school in a nearby town, where she defies the Arab teachers and students and reaches the top of the class, ultimately qualifying for college and medical school. Bashir’s youth sounds almost idyllic, except for female circumcision at age 8 (described in horrifying detail), incomprehensively directed by her own mother and grandmother.

At age 24, Bashir becomes her tribe’s first qualified doctor. After treating rebel fighters, the government sends her to a remote village, where she treats a school full of girls raped by the dreaded Janjaweed, the “devil horsemen” Arab fighters. Bashir experiences even more horror when the Janjaweed gang-rape her and attack her home village. Not surprisingly, she ends up seeking asylum in England where she writes this book.

The book has a glossary of Arabic and Zaghawa terms at the end, but oddly enough it does not define Janjaweed, and the terms are not in alphabetical order (in this advance reader edition, courtesy of the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program). The book would also benefit from a map and from dates in the chapter headings. An author’s note at the beginning indicates that Bashir was born in 1979, but it gets tiresome trying to do the math and figure out the years events are occurring with sometimes-there sometimes-not ages of Bashir.

The book reads like a novel, probably due to co-writer Damien Lewis, a BBC reporter who has covered conflicts in Africa for many years. This book gave me a much better picture of what is going on in Darfur today.

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