Combining simple, economical prose with a profound awareness of the hardships that life sometimes brings to young people, Linda Sue Park has crafted a suspenseful, accessible novel that goes beyond newspaper headlines to illuminate human experience. Includes an afterword from the author and one from Salva Dut. A Long Walk to Water begins as two stories, told in alternating sections, about a girl in Sudan in 2008 and a boy in Sudan in 1985. The girl, Nya, is fetching water from a pond that is two hours’ walk from her home: she makes two trips to the pond every day. The boy, Salva, becomes one of the “lost boys” of Sudan, refugees who cover the African continent on foot as they search for their families and for a safe place to stay. Enduring every hardship from loneliness to attack by armed rebels to contact with killer lions and crocodiles, Salva is a survivor, and his story goes on to intersect with Nya’s in an astonishing and moving way.
See the review at WOW Review, Volume 4, Issue 2
- ISBN: 9780547251271
- Author: Park, Linda Sue
- Published: 2010 , Clarion Books
- Themes: civil war, Refugees, Survival, water
- Descriptors: Africa, Historical Fiction, Intermediate (ages 9-14), Sudan
- No. of pages: 128
2 thoughts on “A Long Walk To Water”
Water, precious water, having access to water on a daily basis is something that many of us take for granted in our own lives. For children in this story, whether it was in 1985 for Salva or in 2008 for Nya, they had to struggle for basic survival – whether it was searching for a safe place to live or having clean water to drink each day. The fact that this story is based on true events makes it even more powerful for the reader.
Beyond the physical struggles that each of these children experienced, what struck me most was the emotional strength and fortitude that Salva found in himself. In his early life Salva had come from an important family, but it was all lost during the rebel fighting and destruction of his village. It didn’t matter who his was or how many cattle his family owned, people abandoned him because as an eleven year old he was “of no real use to them.”
There was a great deal of misfortune that Salva experienced at the outset of the rebel fighting. At first he was alone, afraid, traumatized, and lost his sense of security. Even in the midst of all this confusion, I felt that there were a couple of favorable events for Salva that helped him find his courage and the strength to stay alive. On the long journey to Kenya he met up with his uncle who helped tend to his physical needs, but moreover he provided Salva with an emotional source of strength and gave him words encouragement when needed most. For example, when Salva is just about to give up in the desert, his uncle helps him by encouraging him to make it – “bit by bit, one step at a time.” In this way, he also got through life at the refugee camp telling himself he could make it, “one step at a time . . . one day at a time.”
The emotional turning point for Salva was his uncle’s death. It was quite amazing to read about how he found strength after his uncle is shot and killed. Park writes, “Despite the numbness in his heart, Salva was amazed to find himself walking faster and more boldly than he had before . . . Beneath his terrible sadness, he felt stronger.” His mental and emotional resilience at this point is remarkable. He is driven to survive and proves that he can do it. He states, “There is no one left to help me. They think I am weak and useless. Salva lifted his head proudly. They are wrong, and I will prove it.” At this point his voice grows stronger and more determined.
As a side note, it seemed to me that the author italicized parts of the text throughout the book to indicate Salva’s voice and inner thoughts. Although I am not sure why she did not italicize the “I” in those sentences, but I am guessing that she may have done this to highlight his strength and feeling of empowerment. I thought this was an interesting addition to the story.
One of the most powerful quotes in the story to me was, “It was hard to keep hope alive when there was so little to feed it.” Yet, somehow Salva found a way to keep hopeful, persevere, and even returned to Sudan and provided hope and clean life sustaining water for thousands of others. I also visited Linda Sue Park’s website where she has a video interview with Salva and a link to learn more about Salva’s life and work. This supplemental information is helpful and provides visuals which might help children learn about and consider challenges for children living in Sudan.
Yoo Kyung Sung
Thank you, Michele for your thoughtful comments. You sketched the story such a way that I can share my thoughts without another plot summation. I have read a range of literature that about the hardship in different in African nations. Often those books describe the political chaos through a young protagonists’ perspective who is threatened and eventually victimized, ripping away a normal childhood or, certainly, a period of time in their childhood. A normal childhood, to me, is not necessarily materialistic abundance, but a normal day in their comfort zone with family, community, and school replete with familiar routines. A Long Walk to Water also has a beginning similar like to African teenagers’ stories that are filled with unprecedented invasions of horror and a gnawing uncertainty that comes from having to live outside those comfort zones.
The stories of the two protagonists, Salva and Nya, result from political conflicts and historical as well as contemporary droughts which drive continuous water migrations. Frequently, African protagonists suffer from political conflicts and are often young teenagers who experience increasing confusion, fear, desperation, etc. while hope grows thinner as those traumatic experiences reoccur everyday. What I found thankful about A Long Walk To Water is that this is one of a few books of that nature that teachers can hand to younger children. Most African teenagers’ stories portray contemporary national conflicts and describe atrocity so graphically that they are suited better for older students. A Long Walk To Water seems to be written to invite younger readers in without the graphic portrayals. Yet, Linda Sue Park still makes an impact when she describes some of the harsh realities. For example, the threat to human life is not as focused when compared to other African literature. Instead, physical pain from long walks, fear of being left behind, ecological conditions that include crocodiles and lions, polluted water and a sick sibling all portray difficult issues without the violence. In many ways, children in the U. S. can connect with such a life journey, despite the heartbreaking aspects that seal the authenticity of the story.
Additionally I appreciate the two characters, Salva and Nya. Often women and girls in African conflict literature only focus on boys. Females play supporting characters. Using the perspectives of a boy and a girl, Linda Sue Park develops the readers’ awareness of the tribal diversity that caused the long history of political dispute between the Dinka and the Nuer tribes. Water has long symbolized the cause of such long conflicts in Sudanese history while also providing ways of making peace. In the beginning, I felt the book was somewhat different from Park’s previous styles in that it explored the story not through the internal conflicts of both characters but through the external stimuli of cultural and ecological conditions. When I finished the notes from the author, I Salva Dut was a real survivor. I came to realize that the author wrote this book as a way of raising awareness of the importance of water in the Sudan, honoring Salva Dut’s true story of reliving the past and experiencing the present, much like the numerous wells he had drilled in southern Sudan. Linda Sue Park conducted major research, interviews and traveled to Sudan in preparation for writing. A Long Walk To Water is another book carefully written with respect to the authenticity and accuracy of the plight of Sudanese children.