The Translator: A Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur.
Daoud Hari. Random House. 204 pp. $23.00
Reading a book about Darfur is like eating Brussels sprouts. You know you should but, really, it doesn’t sound like fun. While this book isn’t fun, it is lyrical and as captivating as an Indiana Jones movie. A word of warning to those who tend to shed tears, don’t read this book in a public place.
Daoud Hari takes us into the villages, dry riverbeds and sand dunes of Chad and Sudan where genocide has been taking place for years. He doesn’t analyze the political and economical reasons behind the fighting. He explains what it’s like to lose your childhood home and just about all the people in it.
His first language is Zaghawa, not English but his command of the language is considerable. He describes life in his village before it is destroyed without a false sense of sentimentality. Hari spent many years working in Egypt and then had a stint in jail for trying to slip across the border into Israel. He narrowly escapes execution and returns to his home village to find himself in the middle of a war. He arrives just after the initial attacks. Several people have been killed and the rest are packing up and getting ready to leave before the onslaught they know is coming.
He borrows traditional robes from his brother and takes a camel ride into the desert to check on animals that are hidden from the attackers. “I used the camel whip very lightly to get some speed in the sand. I saw a shadow in the sand of who I might have been had I stayed.
“I was happy to find my place again in my big and loving family. Maybe Heaven is like this, a warm reunion of those you love after dark times and a long separation, but with a little excitement to keep things interesting.”
The village is destroyed the next day and its surviving inhabitants flee to refugee camps or to join rebel armies. Hari is separated from his family once again.
It is nothing short of a miracle that Hari has lived to tell his story. He escapes death more than once as he takes international reporters into the war zone. Early on he decides that he language will be the weapon he uses to defend his people. By translating for others, he brings attention to daily atrocities.
The Sudanese government outlaws journalists but Hari keeps taking them to hot spots. Eventually his luck runs out.
The origin of the conflict is as old as Empire. “Nearly half of Africa is covered by the pastoral lands of herding villages, and much of this land has great wealth below and poor people above.” Even if you have no interest in the issues, this book is a gripping read. It is both a thriller and a horror story.