Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari

The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari
Random House, March 2008
Nonfiction; 200 pgs

Started: 02/10/2008
Completed: 02/12/2008
Rating: * (Very Good +)

First Sentence: I am sure you know how important it can be to get a good phone signal.

Reason for Reading: I was interested in learning more about the current conflict in Darfur. I received this book through the LibraryThing's Early Review Program.

Comments: Last summer as I immersed myself in books, I spent time in Africa. Through books, I lived life as a child soldier in West Africa; I talked with the killers in Rwanda who murdered their own neighbors and friends, ones they played and dined with just days before; I was taken into South Africa and came face to face with Apartheid; and I lived through a vicious war in what now is called Zimbabwe. The torture and slaughtering of a people is nothing new. The horror of such actions remain fresh always.

As far away and unaffected as we Americans may feel, miles away from the death and danger, that distance is not so great. What goes on across the globe does impact us, whether directly or indirectly. As history repeats itself over and over again, we must not fall into the trap of thinking we are immune. We live in this world too. We are all brothers and sisters. Our basic needs are the same. Our hopes and dreams are not far off from each other. The older I get and the more I learn, the more I realize just how connected we all are. Our choices and decisions have consequences that can have a resounding effect all over the world.

Daoud Hari brings his story to the world in hopes that it will make a difference. He wants his story and the story of those in and from Darfur to be heard. For perhaps in the telling, people will listen and take action.

Daoud Hari, a Zaghawa, was born and raised in a village in Darfur. He had a relatively happy childhood, surrounded by family and a close-knit community. Life had been tranquil, full of the usual every day hardships, playing games with friends and cousins, attending school, and visiting neighbors. Suddenly all that changed. The government has been unstable for quite some time; politics, power, and religion, all creating rifts that would soon come to a head, leading to the slaughter of several thousands of people and displacing millions more, in what would later earn the grim title of genocide. This is still taking place today.

The government under the Sudanese President Omar El Bashir used its military might to attack the every day people and manipulated ethnic groups to turn against their friends and neighbors. Arabs who once lived side by side by their African brothers took up arms against them, and the fighting began. Rebel groups that had begun forming over the years of rising conflict, grew in numbers as the violence escalated and innocent people died. The Sudanese government took advantage of the rebel groups, pitting them against each other, making promises of power and money that were empty at best. For women and girls no matter their ages, rape was a given. Death and violence was everywhere. Is everywhere. The Sudanese government continues to engage in such practices, continues to murder and rape the country. And yet the people, those caught in the middle who have become the targets, struggle to live on as best they can. It is because of people like Daoud Hari that their screams and cries are not falling on deaf ears.

In The Translator, Daoud Hari writes about his life in Darfur, his travels into the great Sahara, Israel and his imprisonment in both Israel and Egypt for entering Israel illegally. He also talks about how he came to be a guide and translator for both the genocide investigators and journalists wanting to visit and speak with people in Darfur. He risked his life time and time again, leading the reporters and investigators into war torn Darfur so the truth could get out.

Mr. Hari's voice comes through in his writing. He seems genuine and sincere. There is no pretension. His writing is simple and to the point. He maintains his sense of humor even in the direst of moments--at least in the retelling. What else can you do? You have to cope somehow. There were, and continue to be, so many every day people trapped in between the fighting, some fleeing and others trying to survive and hold onto what they still have.

The author describes the horrors he encounters, individualizes the victims and gives them their own voices. He includes the readers, drawing us in pointing out the similarities, however small: the girl you admire, the loss of a baby. These are all things we all can relate to regardless of our borders. While he is careful with names and locations for the safety of those who remain behind, he does not shy away from talking about the rapes, the torture and the murder. He is not overly graphic in his descriptions, but the reader cannot help but visualize it all. Several times throughout the book, my heart ached and tears welled up in my eyes, mothers and fathers watching their children die.

Daoud Hari's experiences while in Darfur during the war were full of suffering and loss. And yet, he stood his ground and carried on. He had a purpose, always moving forward to help those around him who needed his aid and in helping get the word out about the conditions is which the people of Darfur were forced to contend. He saw the humanity even in those who might cause him the greatest harm. His courage and strength carried him through as much as his friendliness, insight and thoughtfulness.

The Translator is a powerful memoir that needs to be read. It is an important story about the terror that has engulfed Darfur and is spilling over the borders into neighboring countries and regions. Darfur is not the only area that currently is facing such atrocities, and unfortunately it will not likely be the last unless humanity begins to take action and set things right.

Favorite Parts (and on a lighter note): I loved how he described the Sahara desert--beautiful and merciless. It is obvious the author is in awe of this great desert, but then, who wouldn’t be?

The author is a reader! One of his favorite books is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

Miscellaneous: I actually marked several quotes in this book that I would like to go back to at a later time. Unfortunately because this is an Advance Readers Copy, I am unable to post them at this time.

It seemed quite timely that just as soon as I finished reading this book, there was an article about Steven Spielberg in relation to Darfur. He has withdrawn as the artistic adviser for the Beijing Olympics in protest of China's failure to take a stance against the Sudanese government. China has close ties with the Sudanese government and is one of the main buyers of Sudanese oil.


  1. I didn't read your review as I haven't finished this book yet. I got wrapped up in The Poet and I have almost completed it.

    I look forward to coming back and reading your review as I have truly enjoyed what I have read so far of this book.

  2. Beautifully reviewed, Wendy. I just started this book last night - I think I will quickly finish it. Very powerfully written in simple prose....

  3. Wow. This book sounds really interesting. Thanks for posting about it.


  4. Wow, this book looks really interesting. I just finished reading What is the What by Dave Eggers a fictionalized autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, a Lost Boy from Sudan. They also hope to shed light on the current genocide in Darfur. If you haven't read it, I would highly recommend it. After reading it, I've been wanting to read more books on the situation. Thanks for the great recommendation, I will put it on my reading list.

  5. I'm always afraid to read books that look to be this painful, but I'll have to put this one on the wishlist. Your recommendation is high indeed.

  6. I'd read it just for the description of the Sahara (I have a thing for deserts!).

    I loved the first line. We have had a number of students do internships in various African countries, and hit-and-miss telecommunications is one of the things they always comment on when they return. They don't realize how much they depend on it until they go someplace where you can't take it for granted.

  7. Wonderful post, Wendy. This sounds like a must read. I'm glad that there are books like this, books that allow the truth to be told and the victims' voices to be heard.

  8. It sounds like this book may have had quite an effect on you - and that's one of the reasons we read, isn't it? Thank you for sharing your impressions in a great review. I'll have to be on the lookout for this one.

  9. This sounds like a powerful book. Thanks for the great review.

  10. It's so strange to hear about stuff like this sitting in our nice comfy houses where it doesn't touch us. I am so glad that people are able to put their experiences into words in books like this that really evoke their life to those of use who can barely imagine it. It sounds like a really interesting book and that it made a big impact on you.

  11. Wow, this one sounds good!! Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for the great review, Wendy!

  12. Amy (Sleepy Reader) - The Poet is engrossing! :-) I look forward to reading your thoughts on The Translator. I'm glad so many of us got to read this one about the same time. :-)

    Wendy - Thank you. I hope you get as much out of the book as I did.

    Amy - It was definitely a worthwhile read.

    Maw Books - I just got back from reading your review of Dave Eggers book (very good!). I haven't yet read it, but I sure do want to. Thanks for the recommendation!

    Heather - It is a painful read. What human beings do to other human beings . . . It is just so sad. I think it's important for stories like this to be heard though--if only to raise awareness in hopes of preventing it from happening again. Of course, that means stopping what's going on now. Sometimes it feels helpless, but Daoud Hari has so much optimism that it's infectious. :-)

    Terri - Haha Yes, deserts are quite fascinating--and frightening in some respects.

    Phones can be such annoyances and yet they sure come in handy when in situations like the students you mention as well as in Mr. Hari's situation. They can mean life or death. It's easy to take them for granted when not faced with situations like that.

    Nymeth - Thank you. I completely agree. So much goes on in the world that we never hear about and as ugly and tragic as some of these books are, I really do think they tell stories that need to be heard.

    Jen - I did. I really like reading books like this. Although I wish there wasn't a reason for them to be written. :-(

    Florinda - Thanks. Human rights' violations and genocide are topics that get my blood boiling.

    Jaimie - Thank you. It's definitely powerful.

    Rhinoa - Yes, it seems like a different world entirely reading about things like this and yet it's not so far away as we might want to believe.

    Melody - Thanks! I get so much from books like these.

  13. Hey, LF, I tagged you for a non-fiction meme, which may be totally redundant but I'd still like to read your answers...

    And how is that for a convoluted sentence?


  14. Wow, this sounds good. I just finished "The Rebels' Hour," a novel based on fact, by a Belgian writer. Powerful story - a fictionalized account of a young man of Rwandan origins who ends up a rebel general in Congo - but it sort of left me cold, either the writing or the translation didn't quite work for me. This sounds better.

  15. This sounds like a very good book and just the thing I need for my bookclub. I already added it to my wish list - thanks for reviewing it.

  16. I only briefly skimmed this book, since I have it on my TBR pile. I'll be coming back once I read it, probably sometime in the next two weeks. I'm not on Library Thing, so I tracked down the author through the Save Darfur organization to get an ARC. I was fortunate that his wonderful agent gave me a copy. :)

  17. We think it's all so foreign and far away but honestly, there but for the grace of God, or good luck, etc, go us. It's frighteningly possible everywhere.
    Sounds like a powerfully moving book. One nitpick - he doesn't humanize the victims -they are human. He does remind us of that fact.

  18. This sounds like one of those books you just have to read in order to understand more of the world. I'm glad there are so many people in other countries who write about their experiences; I learn so much more from reading a memoir or novelistic account than articles in the news.

  19. CJ - I was eying that meme and am glad you tagged me for it!

    Clea - The book you mention, "The Rebels' Hour" sounds interesting. It's too bad it didn't leave a better impression on you. I hope you do get a chance to read this one.

    Kris - It would definitely make a good bookclub selection--plenty to talk about!

    Alisia - I am glad you will be reading this one. There is mention of the refugee camps and the hardships the refugees face--another area where education wouldn't hurt so that these people get the help they need.

    Melody - Thanks, Melody!

    Carrie - Exactly. We don't believe anything like that could happen here, but it very well can. Some of the Middle Eastern countries who are now under fundamentalist rule were once prosperous and progressive. And now those countries are poor and full of violence and oppression.

    Humanize wasn't the right word at all really. :-) It's been corrected. Thanks for pointing it out.

    Jeane - I agree. I think memoirs or nonfiction books written about situations like this can be more effective than a quick news segment on television. There are some great written news sources out there, but they sometimes get overlooked because they aren't quick and easy reads.

  20. I also have a review copy of this - it sounds like an important book. Your review is beautifully written, as always.

  21. This one sounds very interesting--and I like what you say about nothing new, but still fresh. Only 200 pages???

    I'd be interested in knowing the titles of the other books you read last summer. I'm guessing the first is Memoirs of a Boy Soldier? (which I plan on reading this year).

  22. Oh, perfect rewording! I feel kind of grinchy even saying anything when I cannot put a coherent sentence together myself....but clearly that makes me a born editor, eh? Just smack me if I get out of line though.

  23. Tara - Thank you so much! I look forward to reading your thoughts on this book.

    Trish - It packs a powerful punch in just 200 pages--and the print was not exactly small.

    The West African child soldier book I was referring to is actually a fiction book called Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala. And then there was Lauren St. John's memoir about her life in Rhodesia (now known and Zimbabwe) called Rainbow's End and also Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun. Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda is a nonfiction book by Jean Hatzfeld. And then Forgive Me by Amanda Eyre Ward touched upon Apartheid in South Africa (fiction).

    Carrie K - I'm glad you approve! :-) Honestly, I'd rather get it right then get it wrong, find six months later and feel so embarrassed.


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