Saturday, February 16, 2008

Book Review: Slave; My True Story, by Mende Nazer and Damien Lewis


That's what I thought and felt as I read much of this account of Mende Nazer's life. Until she was twelve, she lived happily with her family (although there is a positively gut-wrenching account of her female circumcision, so much so that I actually had to put the book down and cover my face for a minute before I was composed enough to continue - even writing this I am squirming internally) in her village in the Nuba Mountains in Sudan. She played, attended school, participated in tribal celebrations, and aspired to be a doctor when she grew up. Unlike many accounts of personal tragedy and struggle, this portion of her story is in-depth, and told with such obvious love and longing that I found myself becoming attached not only to Mende, but to her family as well. That made it all the harder to read of the raid on her village by Arabian raiders, in which many were raped, cut open and burned in the streets. Mende is abducted along with many other children, physically and sexually assaulted, and sold into slavery.

I don't want to give any more of her tale away, but suffice it to say that the entire story, right up to the dramatic and sudden climax, was positively gripping. Her ability to recall names and other details, especially while she was so young and traumatized, is remarkable. I can't even remember what I went to the store for, and here she can tell who was with her and where she has been during the most terrifying and confusing experiences imaginable! She even has managed to inject some humor into the story, detailing her and other children's reactions to seeing a large city and card for the first time (they thought the large cars gave birth to the smaller cars, and streetlights were some kind of light plant!).

I have heard that slavery still exists as a dirty, secretive entity, but like I assume most people, it seems such an outlandish concept that I have kept the information in perhaps a separate part of my brain where I store all other new bites that don't seem quite real. For this practice to continue, and to worm its way into what we arrogantly call first-world countries, is absolutely horrifying. Mende only escaped her captors and published this novel in 2003, with the help of journalist Damien Lewis. For those who are interested, there is a wealth of information about her on the internet, including YouTube videos of her discussing her experience. I hope to read more of her in the future, especially updates as to whether she is ever able to see any of her family again. She is definitely an awe-inspiring young woman.