Tag Archives: Africa

Student Review: A Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah (reviewed by Jeana K.)

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy SoldierA Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Long Way Gone is a heartbreaking story of a young boy named Ishmael Beah who is unexpectedly caught in the middle of a civil war in Sierra Leone. When he is just twelve years old, Ishmael and his older brother, Junior, leave their hometown to go to a nearby village to partake in a talent show with their friends, but little did they know that they would not be able to return. A group of rebels attack and destroy Ishmael’s hometown while he is away, and the rebels plan to ransack the village Ishmael is at too. Among confusion, violence, and fear of war, Ishmael, his brother, and his friends were forced to wander from village to village in search of food and shelter. For days the terrified children walked aimlessly, starving and desperate, and trying to make sense of what had happened and was happening. Ishmael, now separated from his brother was recruited into the army as a child soldier. He fights fiercely constantly killing people and taking drugs, until he is sent to the rehabilitation center. There he struggles to understand his past and ease off his dependence on the drugs. The captivating story of A Long Way Gone is filled with so many emotions that is conveyed so well by the sorrowful or angered tone. Through the detailed imagery, this book creates an effect where the reader truly feels and sees the loss and terror of the wars. While reading A Long Way Gone, I was full of sympathy and tears putting myself in his shoes. The beginning of the book was full of action and emotion which got my attention. Near the end, the plot was less exciting but still definitely worth reading. Beah illustrates an unbelievable amount of violence, blood, and death that he saw and felt. A Long Way Gone portrays the sufferings and hardships of the children during the civil war in Africa.
~ Student: Jeana K.

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Student Review: A Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah (reviewed by Ariana R.)

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy SoldierA Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ishmael’s A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier is a memoir of a boy soldier surviving the war in Sierra Leone. Ishmael describes the horrific and traumatizing experiences of his journey. From being attacked by rebels in his home village, Mogbwemo, to watching his family burn to ashes, Ishmael has been a victim of war. He left his home with his brother, Junior, and a friend to a neighboring village to perform in a talent show when the rebels attacked. Ishmael, at only twelve years old, was forced to flee and never had a stable home in Sierra Leone since. After months of running away Ishmael was brought to an army-based village and became a soldier to avenge his parents’ death. Killing and taking drugs had become his life until the organization UNICEF brought him to a rehabilitation center. Ishmael ended up with his uncle in the city of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, when the war soon followed him. Ishmael was able to escape the country to Guinea from where he was sent to New York and adopted. This book does not only explain the unthinkable into words but helps bring awareness for boy soldiers all around the world who are being stripped of their childhood.

I personally enjoyed this book for its sad but realistic truth. The beautiful language gives clear and vivid images of the war in Sierra Leone. I knew about children being forced into becoming soldiers but never realized their situations were this dire. Reading this book gave me more knowledge on this subject and moved me to do more personal research. A Long Way Gone has become a new personal favorite and I hope everyone gets a chance to read it! ~ Student: Ariana R.

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Student Review: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith (reviewed by Katherine B.)

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency  (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #1)The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Want to read a detective novel, but too lazy for Doyle or Cristie? For a short, sweet, and heartwarming book, pick up Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Smith’s novel has all the elements of a great mystery- a first-rate protagonist, a compelling plot, and an unforgettable ending.

Mma Ramotswe, the story’s protagonist, is a middle-aged Botswanan woman who decides to start a detective agency after her father’s death. Mma Ramotswe drives from one mystery to the next, solving each through intuition and resourcefulness. Most of the mysteries are lighthearted and witty, but one is more serious. Gradually Mma Ramotswe uncovers more information about it, and eventually is able to confront a face of her country’s sinister problem.

Even though many chapters don’t feature much action (e.g., ‘Mma Matsuki Deals with the Mail’), The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is very entertaining. Mma Ramotswe comes up with a clever solution to each problem she’s given, which becomes even more interesting against the Botswana backdrop. The most mundane chores, like driving to meet a client, become infinitely more exciting when a snake glides up into Mma Romotswe’s car and she has to decide what to do about it.

Also, the novel is narrated with a very straightforward, understated voice. It says enough to provide humor and interest, without saying too much and impeding the flow of plot:

“’Have you been in my house before?’ he asked, knowing of course, that she had not. ‘Have you been to one of my parties?’
That was a lie as well, she knew. Mr. Patel never gave parties, and she wondered why he would pretend to do so.
‘No.’ She said simply. ‘You have never asked me.’
‘Oh dear,’ he said, chuckling as he spoke. ‘Then I have made a big mistake’”(99).

Although this isn’t all in the quote, this book is sad, sweet, funny, and beautifully honest- and the story’s simple, sincere voice captures this perfectly.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a cheerful, uncomplicated novel, or a painless mystery book. Despite its title, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency isn’t at all a girly book, and I recommend it highly to both girls and boys in search of a light read. ~ Student: Katherine B.

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Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton

Cry, the Beloved CountryCry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alan Paton’s classic, Cry the Beloved Country, is one that will stay with me for a long time. His simple, lyrical prose, beleaguered yet dignified protagonist and rich portrayal of South Africa combine to create a tragic tale of human struggle and loss. Zulu Stephan Kumalo is a humble Christian pastor in rural South Africa who is forced to travel to the bewildering and intimidating city of Johannesburg to search for his sister and son who have stopped writing home with no explanation. Kamali loses much more than he finds on this ill-fated journey during which the reader is exposed to the racial tensions and consequences of apartheid era South Africa. Despite facing tragic loss and shame, the tender-hearted Kumalo’s faith in humanity is restored by the selfless acts of a few key characters, both black and white. Religion is central to understanding this book, but it stops shy of preachiness. The prose is as spare as can be, boiled down to the bare essence of its intent. Poetic. Lilting. Haunting. It takes some effort to get into its rhythm, and to get past the lack of quotation marks in the dialog, or the unpronounceable African names and titles, but it is well worth the time. Before you know it, you’ll be lost in the mist on the veld, crying yourself for Paton’s beloved country. ~ Ms. Dimmick

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Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple HibiscusPurple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love it when an author introduces me to a time, a place and a culture that I could never discover without her. This time it was Nigeria following a coup and the culture was revealed through a diverse cast of African characters who inspired both my love and disgust. Told through the eyes of Kimbili, the teenaged daughter of a wealthy, educated and tyrannical father, the story unfolds with a sense of foreboding that only intensifies over time. Kimbili and her brother Ja Ja’s lives are governed by the suffocating schedules and paralyzing expectations of their father, whose tyranny is inspired by his fanatical attachment to his Christian faith. Kimbili and Ja Ja’s sheltered existence is suddenly brought into sharp contrast when they spend a week visiting their cousins in a much poorer home filled with love, laughter and intellectual stimulation. The reader yearns to comfort Kimbili as she struggles to make sense of these starkly divergent ways of life and pays an agonizing price for questioning her father’s wisdom. This is at once a painful and beautiful read. ~ Ms. Dimmick

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Student Review: Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, by Barack Obama (reviewed by Sophie C.)

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and InheritanceDreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One may expect the first memoir of the first black president of the United States to be pretentious or preachy, yet Dreams from My Father is refreshingly humble. In this well-crafted self-seeking journey from Indonesian childhood to Chicago working life to discovering his family in Kenya, Obama manages to reflect upon his own shortcomings in faith, drive, and perceptions while still putting forth an inspiring story of surprising candidness. The only detraction may be the length and occasional dryness of some earlier sections. Obama’s humility is perhaps one of the most unexpected and special aspects of the book; one would assume as a famous politician he would focus on his good qualities and “safe” topics. Instead he considers his own actions maturely; for example he ridicules his own initial judgments on a poor Indonesian woman in the market, and resents his adolescent indolence. Obama possesses a special way with words, describing scenes both of desolation—as in his first look at his ancestral home in Kenya—and of festivity in minute and riveting detail. Insight and wisdom are also significant elements present—few pages pass without a consideration of ideas or sentiments, whether it is a stepping-stone in Obama’s own self-discovery, or a nugget of wisdom from the many people who touched his life—for example: “ ‘I’m less interested in a daughter who’s authentically African than one who is authentically herself’ ” (435). A powerful read for anyone interested in learning more about the incredible life of our president; but also one for a reader willing to put a bit of their time into a touching story of resilience, family, love, and the power of moving forward. ~ Student: Sophie C.

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Student Review: What is the What, by Dave Eggers (reviewed by Gabi R.)

What Is the WhatWhat Is the What by Dave Eggers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What is the What a novel written by Dave Eggers is a personal account of Valentino Achak Deng, a Lost Boy. The radical Islamists, the Mujahedeen soldiers, forced Achak from his home in Sudan during the 1980’s. This resulted in the killing of most of his family and friends in his village. He and thousands of other boys were forced to travel to Ethiopia, where they could get aid and live in the refugee camps. Many boys formed groups to help protect each other, as they encountered lions, crocodiles, Mujahedeen soldiers, diseases, dehydration, and starvation. The journey through the harsh, never-ending desert killed almost all the Lost Boys. Achek saw many boys fighting over small bits of food, as their survival depended on it. “I spent years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia, and there I watched two young boys, perhaps twelve years old, fighting so viciously over rations that one kicked the other to death.” (p. 13).

The narrative switches between Achak’s life traveling from Sudan to Ethiopia and his life in Atlanta, Georgia. Many Lost Boys came to America to get an education and hoped to earn enough money to be able to go back and start a New Sudan. In America, Achak had to find work and learn how to drive a car. He had to learn how to find his way and learn how to assimilate into American culture and society. “We were thinking of the kinds of work we would do in the United States. We thought of school there, many of us imagining that we would, within weeks, be studying at American universities.” (P. 521). Achak as well as many other Lost Boys were excited to be traveling to America and finally start an education at a university. They kept imagining their new life and couldn’t wait to finally fulfill their dreams. While in the refugee camps and coming to America, Achak realized in life you have to go for your dreams and don’t sit back and wait. “If I ever fall in love again, I will not wait to love as best as I can. We thought we were young and that there would be time to love well sometime in the future. This is a terrible way to think. It is no way to live, to wait to love.” (P. 353). After watching so many people close to him starve and die, he realized that he needs to make the most of his life and take full advantage of all the opportunities that America has to offer.

As a child of immigrants from South Africa, I felt that I could connect with Achak about how he had to get used to a totally new life. For both my parents and Achak, America was viewed as a place of hope and future. Achak’s main goal of coming to the United States is to receive an education, while my parents came because they wanted more security and they thought that America would be a perfect place to start a family.

If you like a novel about struggling and hardship and then eventual triumph, this is the perfect novel for you. It may seem long and drawn out, but when you reach the end; you come to admire their journey. What these boys went through is real, it is true; they worked through all these adversities and succeeded. ~ Student: Gabi R

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Student Review: The Constant Gardner, by John le Carré (reviewed by Camille S.)

The Constant GardenerThe Constant Gardener by John le Carré

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Constant Gardener by John Le Carré follows Justin Quale, an employee of the British High Commission in Kenya, as he tries to uncover the reasons behind his wife’s brutal murder. The novel explores ideas of corruption and injustice within the pharmaceutical industry and the British High Commission in Kenya.

Overall, John Le Carré’s The Constant Gardener informs the reader on an important issue within society today, but lacks the page to page writing quality to effectively draw the reader into the story. Although, Le Carré succeeded in the overall sense of the novel, the personal storyline of the novel was somewhat choppy and at times confusing. Le Carré wrote in 3rd person but shifted the focus on different characters from chapter to chapter. This style of writing does allow the reader more insight into plotline, but mostly feels awkward and badly timed.

While reading this novel, it is important to keep in mind that the people, institutions, and events of the novel are completely fictionalized. However, Le Carré succeeds in creating a situation so close to reality that accurately demonstrates the issues of illegal drug testing in Africa today. From the fictitious Tuberculosis drug, Dypraxa, to the fake pharmaceutical company, KVH, the premise of the novel feels real.

In the end, The Constant Gardener helps to inform the reader on an issue he or she may not have thought about in the past. For people interested in more about drug testing, check out The Body Hunters by Sonia Shah which extensively details real life situations. ~ Student: Camille S.

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Student Review: The Lost Boys of Sudan: An American Story of the Refugee Experience, by Mark Bixler (reviewed by Beth Y.)

The Lost Boys of Sudan: An American Story of the Refugee ExperienceThe Lost Boys of Sudan: An American Story of the Refugee Experience by Mark Bixler

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“They first saw a moving staircase” (5). As 3800 men from Sudan came to the United States, they all saw an amazing thing: An escalator. These men known as “Lost Boys” experienced a remarkable and shocking journey during the second Sudanese Civil War. In 2000, the United States began accepting the Lost Boys so that they could lead a different lifestyle and ultimately achieve the “American Dream”. The Lost Boys of Sudan by Mark Bixler focuses on four of the lost boys and how they first encounter the daily life of an American citizen. Jacob Magot, Peter Anyang, Daniel Khoch, and Marko Ayii are among 150 other lost boys who came to Atlanta, Georgia to live their new lives. The “Lost Boys” are repeatedly faced with ongoing problems and challenges that American citizens would not think twice about. These men came to America knowing nothing about air conditioners, flushing toilets, or automobiles. This book also focuses a lot on the history of Sudan, international aid politics, and the people who guided the Lost Boys through their settlement in America. Following every step of the Lost Boys’ journey was compelling at times, but the majority of the book was uneventful and not very captivating. It was also a confusing read because the book kept on going from past to present which made it harder to follow the characters. I would only recommend this book to those who are intrigued by the history of Sudan and the Lost Boys. ~ Student: Beth Y.

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Cutting For Stone, by Abraham Verghese

Book Cover Image, Cutting For Stone from goodreads.com

book cover image from goodreads.com

This is my first goodreads 5 star book. I am loathe to try to write a summary because I want you to be able to discover this story on your own, without anyone else’s voice in your head. Suffice it to say that it is a beautifully written story of people (mostly doctors and their fascinating, brilliant twin boys), place (mostly Ethiopia, but some India and New York), medicine (all sorts, richly described and scientifically accurate–not for the weak of stomach), love, and family. The characters are so real you miss them terribly when the book is done. The writing appeals to the senses so much that you will know the flavor of Ethiopian injera with lamb and lentils, or the scent of a diabetic’s breath, or the sound of the monsoon rains on a tin roof. Read it now!

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