Brothers in Hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan
R. Gregory Christie (illus.)
Brothers in Hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan .
New York: Lee & Low, 2005. $17.95,
Note: Eight-year-old Garang, orphaned by a civil war in Sudan, finds the inner strength to help lead other boys as they trek thousands of miles seeking safety in Ethiopia, then Kenya, and finally in the United States.
_Brothers in Hope_ is an illustrated story book aimed at ages 4 to 8. Its hero is Garang, a southern Sudanese boy orphaned and exiled by the war, who makes the difficult trek from his home village through refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya to resettlement in the United States. Along the way, he helps younger children, especially Chuti; the relationship between Garang and Chuti provides an interesting sub-plot. Garang and the others are helped in turn by Tom, an American who finally helps them to leave Africa for America at which point the story stops, before Garang's arrival in America.
The quantity of text perhaps pushes the book towards the top end of the 4-8 age range, but the illustrations are excellent, good enough to appeal to the adults who will have to read the book to younger children, and clear enough to appeal to the children. Importantly, the named characters are almost always easy to identify in the pictures. The illustrator (R. Gregory Christie) has received a number of awards for his illustrations, and evidently deserved them. The map of Africa at the end of the book is a useful feature.
The story is well told, although an occasional word may prove difficult for most children, and it probably lacks the secret ingredient that makes a book a favorite with children. It is hard to imagine this book being demanded as a bedtime story time and time again. That, however, is not its purpose: it is more of a children's documentary than anything else. As a documentary, it will be entirely comprehensible, except perhaps that children may wonder what the wars referred to were about. The failure to explain this is one of the book's weaknesses, but paradoxically it is also a strength, since it means that the book successfully avoids condemning anyone and, as thoughtful adults may come to realize but as children can hardly understand, wars can rarely be blamed on any single or simple cause. Another strength of the book is that it manages to portray war and suffering in a way that is realistic, but is not going to give any readers nightmares.
The values that the book promotes are of kindness, self-reliance, and perhaps religious faith. Garang is kind to Chuti and others, and Tom is kind to Garang and others (and others in America, it is perhaps implied, should also be kind to real-life Garangs). The fictional Garang repeatedly overcomes difficulties by remembering his father telling him that "Your heart and mind are strong. There is nothing you cannot do." There are two references to religious faith in the main text, and one in the afterword. This is probably not too much for even the least religiously minded parent, and is also realistic. Southern Sudanese, when Christian (as many are, or become), are religious. Religion would be an important part of the experience of a real-life Garang, especially if his first refugee camp had been run by evangelical Christians.
Apart from the difficulty likely to be encountered by an adult trying to explain the causes of the war satisfactorily to a questioning child, the only real problem with the book is that salvation is provided three times by an American, and that the story ends with resettlement in America. The first difficulty is that this is not the typical experience of a child such as Garang. It is not only Americans that work in refugee camps. Of several million Sudanese refugees, only some 3,000 actually reached America. And then comes the second difficulty: that the subsequent stories of these real-life Garangs in America have often not been happy ones. A number of articles and at least one book have been written about their difficulties in adapting to life in America.
The author of this book, Mary Williams, founded the Lost Boys Foundation, an organization devoted to helping real-life Garangs in America, and this book is in some ways an advertisement for her foundation, which attracted much attention in 2002 (CNN, Oprah, Jane Fonda). The books afterword does not contain an explicit appeal for funds, but does make an implicit argument for a donation, and provides the URL of the foundation's website. According to the WayBack Machine at archive.org, however, this website closed for reorganization in 2003, and then vanished altogether in April 2005.
Copyright ©2005 by Africa Access, all rights reserved. Africa Access permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and Africa Access Review. For any other proposed use, contact AfricaAccess@aol.com
Reviewed by: Mark Sedgwick, Department of History, American University in Cairo
Subject: North Africa / Sudan / East Africa / Refugees / Fiction / Orphans / War / Black author