A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

I have a feeling, in light of my North Africa project, that I’m going to be reading several books about the “Lost Boys” Sudan. So basic facts:

“The Lost Boys of Sudan is the name given to the groups of over 20,000 boys of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups who were displaced and/or orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005).” (Wikipedia).

The Second Sudanese Civil War was mostly a continuation of the First Sudanese Civil War (1955-1972). Around 2 million people have died as a result of the civil war in Sudan, and another 4 million have been driven from their homes by war, famine, and drought. Sudan gained its independence from Great Britain in 1953, but the Sudanese were not prepared for self-government. Southern Sudan was mostly Christian or animist. The people who live in South Sudan are mostly black Africans. South Sudan also has significant oil fields. Northern Sudan, where the center of power was and is, after the British left, is mostly Arab Muslim. The war spread to the western region of Sudan called Darfur because the government was persecuting the people there who were also non-Arabs, although mostly Muslims. South Sudan became an independent state on July 9, 2011. Fighting and famine are ongoing in both Darfur and South Sudan.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park is subtitled “a novel based on a true story.” The true story is that of a Sudanese boy named Salva Dut who in 1985 was forced to flee his village in Southern Sudan. Salva became separated from his family and his fellow villagers, and he went first to Ethiopia, then to Kenya, in search of refuge and reunification with his family and tribe.

There’s a parallel story about a young girl called Nya from a different tribe and village than Salva who spends her days carrying water from a contaminated water hole miles away from her home so that her family can survive and have water. Nya’s story takes place in 2008.

The two stories are told in alternating chapters from the point of view of Nya and then Salva until their stories converge in a surprising manner. I kept wondering throughout the book how the two stories related, and although the denouement was satisfying, I was a bit frustrated by the wait. I’m not sure I would have chosen to tell Nya’s and Salva’s tales in exactly this way, but then I’m not a Newbery award winning author. (Ms. Park won the Newbery for her historical fiction novel, A Single Shard.)

It’s a good story to introduce children to the problems in Sudan and especially the lives of hardship that some children in the world must live. The book is short, 115 pages, and easy to read, but some of the scenes are harrowing and not appropriate for young or sensitive children.

Part of the purpose of Ms. Park’s book is to promote Salva Dut’s nonprofit foundation, Water for South Sudan.

Water for South Sudan from Water for South Sudan on Vimeo.

6 thoughts on “A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

  1. I’m trying to think of the name of the book I tried to read about the Lost Boys. I think it’s one you read and reviewed a few years ago. It took more fortitude than I had at the time, but I’d like to try again.

    I’ve heard from several others too that A Long Walk to Water is very good. Thanks for the review.

  2. I think fiction (or at least true stories told as fiction) is a good way to introduce people to issues, especially as lots of people simply won’t pick up non-fiction books.

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