Monday, September 29, 2008

'The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur'

by Daoud Hari
As told to Dennis Michael Burke and Megan M. McKenna
Non-Fiction/Memoir, 2008
Penguin UK, trade pb, 211 p.
Daoud Hari lost a way of life in Darfur. But amidst the carnage and turmoil he found a new calling…
As a Zaghawa tribesman in the Darfur region of Sudan, Daoud Hari grew up racing camels across the desert, attending colourful weddings and, when his work was done, playing games under the moonlight. But in 2003 helicopter gunships swooped down on Darfur’s villages and shattered that way of life forever. Sudanese government-backed militias came to murder, rape and burn. To drive the tribesmen from their lands.
When Hari’s village was attacked and destroyed, his family was decimated. He escaped and roamed the battlefield deserts, helping the weak and vulnerable find food, water and safety. When international aid groups and reporters arrived, Hari gave his services as a translator and guide. To do so was to risk his life, for the Sudanese government had outlawed journalists, punishing aid to ‘foreign spies’ with death. Yet Hari did so time and again. Until eventually his luck ran out…
The Translator is a harrowing tale of selfless courage in terrifying conditions.
It’s easy to just live our lives and ignore what’s happening in places far away thinking it doesn't concern us. I’ll often go a few days without watching the news myself although my husband will often tell me some of the headlines. The news is usually so negative all the time that some days I just prefer to stay away. But we really shouldn’t be so complacent when such extreme violence is affecting the lives of so many innocent people. I had heard of Darfur but admit that I really hadn’t given it much serious thought or realised just how awful the situation there was. Much like the film Hotel Rwanda opened my eyes to the atrocities happening there, this book has made me aware of the horrifying genocide currently still taking place in Darfur.
Can you do that [genocide] in this century? Can you solve all your problems by killing everyone in your way? That is for the world to decide. Deciding if and when the traditional people of Darfur can go home will also decide if genocide works or not, and therefore whether it will happen elsewhere again in the world. It seems to me that this is a good place to stop it forever.
This memoir is the result of many hours of conversations with the co-authors, and while reading it, it felt like I was there in the room with Daoud speaking to me personally. And even though the stories he recounts are heartbreaking, he has the most wonderful positive attitude, and even a sense of humour that shows up at times, you can’t help but admire his outlook and bravery through everything. It’s a fairly slim book, and easy to read, but such an important topic. Everyone really should read this! Thanks to Natasha’s Reading and Blogging for Darfur Project for encouraging me to read this sooner rather than later, and helping me be a bit less ignorant about the crisis going on there. I now want to read more about it. These are stories that need to be heard, and hopefully Daoud's story and others will continue to reach more people so the victims of Darfur will not be overlooked or forgotten.
The story I am telling here is based on my memories of a time of great difficulty and confusion. I have done my best to capture the details of my experiences, and to set them down here accurately and to the utmost of my recollection, and I am grateful to those who have helped me focus and occasionally correct my account. Of course, no two people can view the same event in the same way, and I know that others will have their own tales to tell. Surely these collective tales will add up to the truth of the tragedy in Darfur.
Suggestions for further reading from Natasha at Maw Books Blog.
A Darfur Primer
Interview with Daoud Hari
Article in Newsweek
How You Can Help
Guest post by Dennis Burke, co-author of The Translator.
*Photo © Megan McKenna

My Rating: 4/5
(#41 for 2008, Maw Books Blog ‘Reading and Blogging for Darfur’ project, Orbis Terrarum Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
Maw Books Blog
Book Haven
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Fyrefly's Book Blog
Stuff As Dreams Are Made On
Reminder: If you have also read and reviewed this title, let me know and I'll add your link here.


  1. Great review! I also read and reviewed this book here.

  2. This sounds like a really great read! Thanks for recommending.

  3. Wendy- Thanks for the link to your review, I've added it to my post.

    Kim- I'm so glad I read it! I'd certainly recommend it to get an idea of what's happening in Darfur.

  4. Terrific review, Nat! This was such a heart wrenching and powerful book. It's amazing how positive the author is despite all he witnessed and suffered through. I only hope to be half as strong when faced with such adversity.

  5. Gah, I really wanted to have read this in September, but time just went by too fast :/ But no matter...I will read it soon anyway. Thanks for the great review.

  6. Wendy- I really don't know if I could be as positive as he seems to be! He's really quite amazing, and inspiring!

    Nymeth- Oh I know all about time going by too fast! :)


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