Monday, September 29, 2008

Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur by Halima Bashir and Damien Lewis

Like the single white eyelash that graces her row of dark lashes, seen by her people as a mark of good fortune, Halima Bashir's story stands out. Tears of the Desert is the first memoir ever written by a woman caught up in the war in Darfur. It is a survivor's tale of a conflicted country, a resilient people, and the uncompromising spirit of a young woman who refused to be silenced.

Born into the Zaghawa tribe in the Sudanese desert, Halima was doted on by her father, a cattle herder, and kept in line by her formidable grandmother. A politically astute man, Halima's father saw to it that his daughter received a good education away from their rural surroundings. Halima excelled in her studies and exams, surpassing even the privileged Arab girls who looked down their noses at the black Africans. With her love of learning and her father's support, Halima went on to study medicine, and at twenty-four became her village's first formal doctor.

Yet not even the symbol of good luck that dotted her eye could protect her from the encroaching conflict that would consume her land. Janjaweed Arab militias started savagely assaulting the Zaghawa, often with the backing of the Sudanese military. Then, in early 2004, the Janjaweed attacked Bashir's village and surrounding areas, raping forty-two schoolgirls and their teachers. Bashir, who treated the traumatized victims, some as young as eight years old, could no longer remain quiet. But breaking her silence ignited a horrifying turn of events.

In this harrowing and heartbreaking account, Halima Bashir sheds light on the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives being eradicated by what is fast becoming one of the most terrifying genocides of the twenty-first century. Raw and riveting, Tears of the Desert is more than just a memoir, it is Halima Bashir's global call to action.

Halima Bashir is a courageous woman. The situation in Sudan, and Darfur in particular, is very dangerous. In the past, speaking out caused her pain, both physically and mentally. This didn't stop her from writing this book and hopefully bringing the reality of the situation in Darfur to more people around the world.

Tears of the Desert is a heartbreaking story. Some of her descriptions of the treatment the Black Africans at the hands of the Arabs made me cringe. The torture the Darfuri people have endured is unthinkable. Bashir doesn't sensationalize this torture, but neither does she sugar-coat her words either.

The one part of the book that I had a hard time relating to was the first section where she described growing up in her village. She would describe things she and her brothers had done, but they didn't seem to match up with their ages. For example, she describes one time she was held down by her brother and she struggled fiercely to get away, but couldn't. She was supposed to be 10 and her brother 2. She would also describe situations at school and her actions seemed like a much older child. While this isn't a huge point, I found it mildly distracting.

This book does a wonderful job of personalizing the conflict in Darfur. By focusing on Bashir's story it puts a real face on the tragedy and makes it hard to feel removed from it. 4 stars

Order Tears of the Desert


Anna said...

I was distracted by those childhood references as well, but I figure memories aren't perfect.

Great review! I've added a link to your review to mine, which is here:

Anonymous said...

I got this book from LT, too. I found parts of it difficult to read, but I couldn't put it down. It was a real eye opener for me.