Shannon (A Thousand Sisters: My Journey into the Worst Place on Earth to Be a Woman, 2010), an international human rights activist and founder of the nonprofit Run for Congo Women, tells the harrowing story of a Congolese family torn apart by the ongoing threat of Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army.
In her home of Portland, Oregon, the author regularly visited with her friend Francisca Thelin, a Congolese expatriate. Francisca confided tales about her safe, seemingly perfect African childhood growing up on her family’s coffee plantation, followed by the intrusion of the menacing, violent Lord’s Resistance Army. Having immigrated to the United States years before, Francisca lived well, though she was haunted by phone calls from her mother, Mama Koko, detailing the mounting dangers of life in Dungu. Over the course of a year, Mama Koko called nightly to recount the tragic news of the deaths of family members, friends and neighbors who were abducted, tortured and brutally killed by the LRA; some were even burned alive on Christmas Day. Together in 2012, Francisca and Shannon traveled to Africa to visit her family and see and hear for themselves the traumatic narratives of Mama Koko, her husband, Papa Alexander, and other relatives and locals desperate for their accounts to be heard. Shannon weaves together these nightmarish stories of survival and deep grief with the history of Mama Koko’s life before the LRA invaded. She also provides details of Papa Alexander’s wild, entertaining past and Francisca’s struggle to reconcile her happy girlhood memories with the reality of unrelenting threats and cruelty. Shannon’s book both offers a rich portrait of her subjects’ lives and serves as a call to action. The author closes with a section called “What You Can Do Before Setting This Book Down,” since “the damage and the structural issues in Congo’s broken government that have allowed the violence to persist will take decades to heal.”
A highly personal and memorable story.