This 176 page book about life in Khartoum, Sudan reads almost like a memoir with short, loosely connected chapters detailing a young protagonists day-to-day life growing up. There is no real conflict until the very, very end, and the majority of the chapters just seem like snapshots with little to no continuity. That isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy all the stage setting and the easy voice detailing a time and place that I know too little about, but I don’t know that most kids will feel compelled to keep reading. The book is slow and wandering, best suited for lower YA/middle school, if they can be persuaded to read it. I think the book would do well taught, as some good discussions about Sudan, growing up with an English mother in Africa, the role of religion, the 1960s, the impact of financial comfort, and the threat of violence would make the book very relatable while also being eye opening. The power and beauty of OWN voice makes this prose filled book thought provoking and memorable in a subtle and light way.
The standalone chapters follow Farida and her siblings in Sudan in the 1960s. Their summer vacations, visiting friends, trips to villages, making tea, lots and lots of tea, reading books sent by their Grandma in England, and the abrupt arrival of soldiers. Told from a child’s perspective the short chapters focus on the events front and center and don’t carry over or carry morals or lessons.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I like that the chapters titles are written in English and Arabic and that Islamic holidays and customs are mentioned. Interestingly though, the family doesn’t seem to practice. There is cultural presentation of Eid and Mawlid and talk of hajj, but not of praying or saying Bismillah or inshaAllah in daily conversations.
I wish there was more information about the mom being English and how the parents met, and what cultural obstacles maybe had to be ironed out. I also wish there was a bit more at the end, an afterward even something that gave some closure or insight into what the ending means for Farida and for Sudan. The choppiness grows on you, but some stories even at that were too unresolved. The whole chapter detailing her traveling with her uncle to his village only to find her back at home the next chapter without any reflection on the journey, how she returned, the cousins she met, etc., just seemed unresolved.
A birth and burying the placenta is described, alcohol is mentioned, fear of a friends dad is hinted at, soldiers being present, father being taken away by force, shootings.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I think in a middle school classroom setting the book would have a lot of potential. Read a chapter and have kids journal their impressions or thoughts perhaps, or have them imitate the style and write about themselves. It probably wouldn’t work as a book club, but it definitely should be shelved in a school or classroom library.