Lost Boy, Lost Girl: Escaping Civil War in Sudan
Written by John Bul Dau and Martha Arual Akech with Michael S. Sweeney and K.M. Kostyal
National Geographic Children’s Books, 2010, 160 pp.
Told with unflinching honesty, Lost Boy, Lost Girl: Escaping Civil War in Sudan, is a memoir co-authored by a husband and wife about their individual journeys from a seemingly peaceful childhood in Southern Sudan to their present lives in the United States. It is a messy story and one that involves mini-lessons in geopolitics, religion, culture, and history that help the intended American child reader to make sense of a time and a place that is complicated and far removed from a Western perspective. The narrative of love, hope, and survival, however, is universal. This text offers the delicate balance of exploring human themes in culturally specific ways that allows reader to appreciate shared humanity while experiencing alternative ways of being and thinking.
A good example of this balance is when John frames the causes of the war that destroys his life in the contexts of postcolonialism and in his culture’s (the Dinka) stories. There are two narratives working at the same time cooperatively. The war may have been caused by conflict of two separate cultures, the north and south, being forced to share a country and it may have been triggered by the Dinka choosing the fate of war over drought when given a choice by a tortoise who is sent by God to punish the unfaithful.
Much of the writing is matter–of-fact with no horror glossed over but none explored too closely. The authors take turns telling their story with alternating chapters. This gives the reader a chance to interact with two insider perspectives. While the authors do attempt to explain their culture to their Western readers, they also allow for their words to speak for themselves. And these words would make more sense paired with texts about the Lost Boys (and Girls) of Sudan, such as A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park (2009) and Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan written by Mary Williams (2005).
John Bul Dau, from southern Sudan, is one of the thousands of young boys who fled homes and experienced an exhausting journey to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. He and Martha, his wife, came to the United States in 2001 where they now live. Assisting John and Martha in telling their story, Michael S. Sweeny and Karen Kostyal have written books for adults and children that focus on historical events dealing with war and conflict.
Melissa B. Wilson, Tucson, AZ