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Book Review: Girl Soldier – A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children by Faith J. H. McDonnell and Grace Akallo

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In Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda's Children, Grace Akallo describes how a man named Joseph Kony has effectively held her country hostage while the rest of the world remains blissfully ignorant. The notorious Idi Amin is long gone, thankfully, but Kony and his “Lord’s Resistance Army” remain at large. (Peace talks have caused a lull in the conflict for the past year or so.) 

As the name of his “resistance” movement — really, a terrorist organization — implies, Kony is at least nominally Christian. But his theology, such as it is, incorporates many elements of traditional Ugandan spiritualism, and his army receives financial and political support from the Islamist government in neighbouring Sudan. (Kony’s campaign of terror is inextricably linked to the better-known genocide in Darfur.)

Kony’s real god is raw, unchallenged power, and his methods — specifically, the kidnapping, brainwashing, torture and murder of thousands of Ugandan children, the survivors of whom become soldiers of the LRA — are almost too horrifying to believe.

Grace Akallo is one of the lucky ones. Abducted from her church-run school as a young girl, she was taken to an LRA stronghold in Sudan, where she suffered incredible brutality — once, even being buried alive — before escaping back to Uganda. In Girl Soldier Akallo recounts the suffering still visited on countless children, while American co-author Faith McDonnell outlines the political and historic background in alternating chapters.

Girl Soldier was published by Chosen Books, a Michigan-based Christian publisher, and some secular readers may be put off by the authors’ repeated pronouncements of their faith. Also, Akallo’s chapters, though compelling, could have used some editing to iron out the leaden, simplistic prose and asides which American readers will find superfluous. Akallo, who appeared on Oprah in 2004, describes the show as “a popular daily program, on which Oprah Winfrey interviews people on many topics,” suggesting that she wrote her story for an African audience, not an American one. (Of course, I suspect Oprah is every bit as well-known in that part of the world.)

Still, Girl Soldier features a story which must be told, about a conflict which deserves more attention. If the book makes more people aware of the monstrous Kony and the plight of Akallo's people, that is more than enough to overcome its imperfections. Regardless of your faith, or lack of same, you should be outraged.

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