Monday, February 28, 2011

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Linda Sue Park, Newbery Medalist for A Single Shard, has written a very timely middle grade novel in A Long Walk to Water.  After years of Civil War, Sudan held a referendum in January 2011, declaring that Southern Sudan would become an independent nation.  Some of the issues still to be settled are border demarcation and trade barriers.  Since the oil-rich Abyei region straddles the north-south border, controversy is sure to continue after the election and for many years to come.  The war and violence in the south, which has been declared genocide by the United Nations, has decimated the country for more than 25 years.  Stories of the “Lost Boys” of southern Sudan have proliferated in recent years as the surviving youth have reached manhood and have made their way to Europe and the United States.  Churches and other relief organizations are active in southern Sudan, even in the face of danger and mounting suffering by the native peoples.

One of the great needs in this war-torn country is clean water.  Cut off from traditional water supplies and medical facilities, the people of southern Sudan struggle for the bare necessities of life.  Linda Sue Park tells this story in A Long Walk to Water.

Salva Dut, a member of the Dinka tribe, was an eleven-year-old student when the civil war reached his village in 1985.  As shots are fired and bombs are dropped, Salva’s teacher instructs his students to run in the other direction.  Salva and the other students continue to run away from the attack, beginning a journey which will take him across the Nile River to a refugee camp in Ethiopia.  After years in the camp, the refugees are forced out of Ethiopia.  Salva becomes the leader of a group of boys which eventually seeks refuge in Kenya.  Word from the front tells the boys that anyone returning to their home villages will immediately be conscripted into the revolutionary forces.  At the age of 22, Salva is sent from the refugee camp to America, arriving in Rochester, New York, to be met by his new family.  After receiving his education, Salva returns to southern Africa.  He realizes that one thing he can do to relieve the suffering is to build wells.

Linda Sue Park is a resident of Rochester.  She brings her finely-honed writing skills to the task of telling the story of the Lost Boys and of their efforts to bring help and comfort to their people in Sudan.  A Long Walk to Water is the best of the several books I have read on this topic.  Based on the true story of Salva Dut’s experiences, Park fictionalizes certain events to great effect.   I recommend this book for children and adults who want to know more about conditions in an African country which have ramifications around the world—Wilma Snyder.  (Historical fiction, gr. 5-8; Clarion, 2010) 

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