Book Review: A Long Walk to Water

Novelist Linda Sue Park explores the horrific impacts of the war in Sudan by making the experience personal, drawing the reader into the saga of a “lost boy” who was forced in 1985 to abandon his village when war broke out, and then walked first to refugee camps in Ethiopia and then to Kenya, before making his way to the United States. The main character in A Long Walk to Water is Salva Dut, and Park based him on a real person who decided to make an impact on the Sudan by creating a foundation that would provide villages with one thing they desperately need: clean water.

Park alternates the story here of Salva’s survival with the life of Nya, who lives in a village in Southern Sudan in 2008 and whose job in her family is to walk across the desert for hours every day to a pond to fetch water. Later in the book, the threads of the stories weave together nicely as the organization that Salva has created (through public speaking before donors and connections to schools and community groups) comes to Nya’s village to dig a well that will change the lives of her, her family and surrounding villages forever.

The narrative of the “lost boys” who were forced to walk for months, and sometimes even years, to get away from the violent war zones that overtook much of the Sudan (including Darfur) has been told before (I still hold up Dave Eggers’ What is the What as required reading to my adult friends). But Park’s book is appropriate for middle school students, particularly those who are studying or who have interest in modern-day African politics. (Since the publication of the book, the Sudan has become two countries, splitting down ethnic and political lines that form the backdrop for A Long Walk to Water.) Park does not mince words or minimize the suffering of her characters. But by focusing in on the stories of an 11-year-old boy and young girl whose lives slowly come together, Park astutely balances tragedy and triumph, and focuses in on humanity rising above violence.

The inspiration for the book — Salva Dut — created the organization, Water for Sudan , to raise money for wells, and it seems like it continues to do that work.

Peace (in the world),



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