A harrowing memoir in the gothic, almost surreal setting of what some Africans do to other Africans.
Born to what he recalls as a blissful, unschooled childhood in southern Sudan, Piol Bol Buk (his Dinka name) was seven in 1986 when he made his first trip alone from his tribal village to the local marketplace. It was his last. For centuries, even, as the author claims, before there was Islam, Arabic people in the vast country’s north have claimed and exercised the right to raid the black settlements to the south for booty, cattle, and human chattel. Kidnapped into slavery by an Arab militiaman as the family goatherd, Bok spends his first traumatized weeks almost in a trance, sleeping on the ground in a crude hut, barely able to eat (the usual fare: meat gone bad). Crying, complaining, and recalcitrant behavior are corrected by swift beatings. Promoted to cowherd by age 12, he twice attempts to escape and is ultimately recaptured and told he will be shot in the morning. His master relents—“He needed me too much,” Bok recalls—but finally, after ten full years of captivity, he gets away. The accrued psychological trials are tortuous: learn Arabic to survive; after escaping, relearn Dinka and try to locate the parents you haven’t heard of in a decade. Unable to find word of his parents and in constant fear of informants who at one point label him an opponent of the government, Bok makes his way to Cairo and eventually, through the UN refugee program, to the US. He is the first escaped slave to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a practice that, overlaid by Africa’s longest running civil war and the indifference of a now Islamist government (some Dinka are Christian), persists, unbelievably, to this day.
Halting, traumatized account of cruelty and suffering.