Saturday, February 9, 2008

REVIEW: The Translator : A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur, by Daoud Hari

The Translator : A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur, by Daoud Hari. Published 2008 by Random House.

Advance Reader Copy obtained as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

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The Translator : A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur is a light, thin volume on a heavy subject- the ongoing genocide against non-Arabs in the Darfur region of Sudan. The narrator/author, Daoud Hari, worked as a translator for aid agencies, reporters and United Nations officials, after escaping attacks on his own village and fleeing to neighboring Chad. His story is amazing.

I didn't know much about the specifics of the origins of the war in Sudan when I opened the book but Hari offers a pencil-sketch history which was enough to get me started in an appendix. The book opens in the thick of the action with an anecdote showing Hari and a reporter being stopped by some troops and having to do some fast talking- just another day on the job. Then Hari backtracks, talks about his life and some adventures before the war, but before we know it the attacks have started, Hari must flee, and everything has changed. In the refugee camps and elsewhere he is witness to evidence and aftershocks of unbelievable brutality marking him and his companions indelibly. Throughout it all are vivid anecdotes and descriptions of a close, communal culture fractured by corrupt politicians, racism, trauma and greed. In the final chapters Hari details his harrowing capture, along with a reporter and their driver, by the Sudanese military and his eventual evacuation from Africa.

The writing style is all the more powerful for being so simple and direct. His friendly, light tone made me feel comfortable right away- the literary equivalent of the tradition of hospitality to which he refers again and again. It's like he's inviting us into his home, sharing customs and traditions with us over the page. He often breaks the fourth wall and addresses the reader directly- what would you do in this situation, how would you react if that happened, etc.- drawing the reader closer and creating empathy. His matter-of-fact style helped bring home the horrors and the absurdity of what he faced, as well as some very humorous and very human moments from time to time. Hari himself comes across as thoughtful and pragmatic, doing what he needs to in order to stay alive and always devoted to helping in any way that he can.

At this point, using his story to attract attention to his cause is the method he chooses. The book's uncomplicated style worked well in chapters where there is a lot of action and activity- after the first few chapters I couldn't put it down it kept me going so. The ending seemed a little rushed though and I wish he had written more about his companions' fate and about his life in America. An extra chapter would serve nicely and would not overwhelm this brief volume. The situation leading to his emigration lasted for several chapters and he lingered over it so that when the ending came, it felt abrupt, almost like something was left on the cutting room floor. That quibble aside, it's a good book and a solid, engaging read for anyone interested in Darfur, Africa or genocide. Hari articulately describes a society on the verge of collapse through a range of emotions, from frustration, anger and shock all the way to gratitude and hope. His hope is that people who read the book will act on behalf of the people still suffering in Darfur. My hope is that he's right.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review by the publisher.


Juliette said...

Thanks for this review, Marie. Feeling really inspired to get this one =)

Marie Cloutier said...

It's really good. I didn't gush over it like some of the other reviewers did but I thought it was terrific. Did you get it from LibraryThing too?