Three “lost boys” of Sudan remember lives lived far away from the torrents of history.
The boys, now young men in their mid-20s, were members of the Dinka tribe, pastoralists who live in the south of the Sudan. The Dinka and their Nuer cousins, whom Benson Deng characterizes as “the tallest and blackest people in Africa,” excited much jealousy among the Arab rulers of the Sudan—rulers who, by Deng’s account, wanted the fertile lands between the Blue Nile and White Nile for themselves and, in the bargain, demanded that the Dinka convert to Islam. It was not an attractive offer; “as cattle keepers,” Benson adds, “we didn’t have time to be meditating with the Qu’ran five times a day.” Soon government planes came to bomb Dinka villages whose inhabitants tried to fight back with spears; when better-armed rebel soldiers arrived, they guided the survivors to refugee camps in Ethiopia, where, Benson recounts, food and medicine were in constant shortage and “many of the boys got sick and died from eating grass soups, but it was often all we had.” Over the next decade, the boys moved among refugee and rebel camps in Kenya and along the Sudanese border, a life that, Alephonsion writes, “was like being devoured by wild animals.” That was little better than being one of the rebel soldiers, Benson adds: Once they strapped on AK-47s, they were controlled as tightly as dogs and sent off to die. Finally, their plight to come to the attention of international relief organizations, and thereafter private American efforts, brought the three boys to the U.S., “the land of many gorgeous goods” and of promises that, one hopes, are being kept.
Well-meaning, and valuable as a document of the refugee experience. The boys’ narrative, however, would have been better served by a commentary explaining the ongoing Sudanese crisis and otherwise adding more depth to this child’s-eye view of events.