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Book Review: Tears of the Desert – A Memoir of Survival in Darfur by Halima Bashir and Damien Lewis

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Halima Bashir's memoir, written with assistance from Damien Lewis, a writer and reporter for the BBC, touched my soul so deeply that I couldn't sit back any longer. I have also read The Translator by Daoud Hari, another book about the Sudan I highly recommend. Both of these memoirs had me weeping and drained emotionally. How lucky for me that I am only reading about the horror. How lucky for me that I read and see visions of the rape, torture, suffering, pain and genocide. It was gut wrenching to think about the real victims and witnesses of the crimes and tragedy being committed daily. The tortured and terrorized may escape the country, but as Bashir will tell you, sometimes she would have rather died than live. I can only imagine that somehow their memories of the brutal savage violence witnessed and the physical pain suffered are buried in some deep cavern of their souls forever. If not, how could they truly survive Darfur?

Tears of the Desert is a poignant memoir capable of producing copious empathetic tears. During the first part of the book, the author recounts her childhood and family life growing up in a village in South Dafur. She establishes a beautiful picture of the Zaghawa tribe culture, her feelings, her aspirations and how she relates to all family members. An extended family surrounds her, most importantly a father who adores her and her feisty Grandma Sumah, a traditionalist with an iron will. As the pleasant images of her upbringing unfold there are also some which are considered barbaric in other cultures. However, involving the reader in this way she makes you a captive caring companion to her feelings and ideas.

During the next part of the story, Halima shares the tragic, unspeakable torture that was inflicted upon her. She details her eyewitness account of horrors of death and suffering in her village and country. Several times during the retelling of her brutal beating and gang rape by the Sudanese Government-supported army, Halima prays for death, prays for an end to her suffering. She would rather die than live. A Memoir of Survival in Darfur — the book’s subtitle — really is her survival from despair, hopelessness, and the dark depths of depression. She now believes she survived to be a messenger, to be able to share her personal tragedy with the world community.

As Tears of the Desert concludes, you reflect on this story of survival, courage and tenacity of will few of us can even fathom. The genocide Halima witnessed and the torture she endured are graphic and uncensored. This is a reality that every world citizen must face. Her hope is that her story will shed more light on the situation in Darfur so that the international community will help end the pain, suffering and genocide.

Readers will find the epilogue with informative details of the history and causes for the current situation in Darfur. Organizations are listed for those looking for ways to assist the people of Darfur.

Tears of the Desert:
A Memoir of Survival in Darfur

by Halima Bashir/Damien Lewis
One World/Ballantine (September 9, 2008)

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