Surviving the Sudan….Book Review: A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Going was easy.

Going, the big plastic container held only air. Tall for her eleven years, Nya could switch the handle from one hands to the other, swing the container by her side, or cradle it in both arms. She could even drag it behind her, bumping it against the ground and raising a tiny cloud of dust with each step.

There was little weight, going. There was only heat, the sun already baking the air, even though it was long before noon. It would take her half the morning if she didn’t stop on the way.

Heat. Time. And thorns. (Park, p. 1)

Every breath Salva took seemed to drain strength rather than restore it.

Thorns gored his feet. His lips became cracked and parched. Uncle cautioned him to make the water in his gourd last as long as possible. It was the hardest thing Salva had ever done, taking only tiny sips when his body cried out for huge gulps of thirst quenching, life-giving water. (Park, 53)

I’m going to open this post up with an immediate statement: Never have my eyes been so open to experience of those in other countries. I opened with these two excerpts, because they scratch the surface of the hardships Nya, living in the Sudan in 2008, and Salva, living in the Sudan in 1985, faced in their journies for survival.

Set in alternating time period, Salva and Nya both have different experiences in the Sudan. Salva is an eleven year old boy forced to flee his school after soldiers attack his schoolhouse during the Sudanese Civil War. The course of Salva’s experience is gut wrenching. From being forced to flee into the “bush” as they refer to it to having to make some tough decisions as a young boy, this is truly THE coming of age story. Prior to reading this, I didn’t know much about the Sudan or the war it faced from 1983-2005.

Intermingling with Salva’s dialogue is the story of a young girl Nya who walks miles each day to fetch water for her family. During the dry season, when the pond Nya walks to dries up, she and her family are forced to live by a big lake that is also dry. The method by which Nya retrives just a little water during this 5 month period is almost worse than walking miles and miles twice a day. Dig and dig and dig for just a cup or two of water. And the water is so scarce, but so contaminated, to not die of dehydration may mean you die of dysentery.

The story primarily focuses on Salva as he escapes the Sudan in pursuit of a refugee camp in Ethiopia. Salva has to cross deserts, lion country, the Nile River, the Gilo river, and much more to find his freedom. The dialogue and narration of Salva is extremely easy to read and reads like an eleven year old boy would talk. This is based on Salva’s real life experience. This made it more emotionally taxing as you read it. I was immediately sucked into his story. With so much at stake and no one to see that he made it safely, I quickly became Salva’s champion. I felt that each page I read would bring Salva’s freedom and safety closer and closer.

Nya’s story turns around when strange men come to her village one day with drills and tools and are inspecting the ground. Nya spends time being confused over the men’s actions, but the gift they give this Nuer tribe is critical. I didn’t realize the impact water could have on uplifting a community until I met these men. Water means life. I found as I was reading this book with a giant 30oz bottle of water in my hand that was cold and freshly filled how different our definition of “poverty” and “without” is in the United States.

The end of the book filled my heart with every warm cookie every baked. Eventually, these two characters, traveling in different times in Sudanese history find their stories connecting at the end of the novel. Salva, now a college educated business man, has some miraculous experiences at the end of the novel. He becomes his own champion and finds unlikely answers to the loss of his family and culture in the Sudan after his escape. He also finds a way to ensure that his people are being helped. Little by little, Salva tells his story to help his people.

I highly recommend this book to anyone that wants a quick, memorable, life changing read. This is one of a kind book. Park did an impeccable job telling Salva’s story. I can only imagine how proud he was to read this. I am not sure why I put off reading this book so long. The craft of her writing to also blend a real life account with a fictional character set her apart as a writer. As I read, I also felt the limited language of the tribe and how they perceived the world around them in terms of their tribe’s history and customs.  Set your comics books aside—We have a real life superman.

Rating:  Owls

Why I loved it:
I loved this book for so many reasons. Mainly, the experiences both character went through, particularly Salva, were gut wrenching. Sitting in my classroom, looking at students who are fed and sheltered and that can go get water, I have a new appreciation for agencies that build wells and schools and provide health care to third world countries. It also floored me that people live like this. You see the commercials on TV, but I think reading someone’s testimony is like meeting them in person. There is no background music or celebrity urging me to spend $19/month. It is me, Park, Salva, Nya, and the $6.99 that was spent on the book. It made my experience as a reader so much more personal to get to the end of the novel and find out this was a 90% true account of this man’s life.

Why the kids loved:
I had one student write on an assignment, “I am not like Nya because I can go to the kitchen for water and don’t have to walk.” The kids like it because it opens their eyes to a new way of life, something that in my small town in Virginia, they have probably never talked about or been exposed to. It’s also a quick read and they feel successful.

Quick and Dirty, 160 Character Review:
Gripping, Compelling, Visceral, Eye Open, READ IT!

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Happy Reading! I hope you enjoyed my review and my students’ reviews!

-Miss Wyoming