Jal, Emmanuel. War Child: a Child Soldier’s Story. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2009.
Reason read: Sudan’s civil war ended in January.
Jal is a typical boy, revering the warriors in uniform who stand before him and looking up to the fighter pilots who banish the enemy from the sky. As a small child he dreams of joining the military to fight the good fight. What is different about Jal is that he is not a pampered American boy playing with G.I. Joe dolls in the backyard in suburbia. Jal is a seven year old boy in war-torn, desert arid Sudan; his family is always on the run from the guns and violence. As he witnesses the deaths of family and friends, Jal’s reverence and admiration for the military grows until, from a place of hatred, comes the desire for violent tortuous revenge. He wants to follow in the footsteps of his father, a commander in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Jal hungers to go to school to be a soldier. His singular focus is to kill the enemy; and kill them, he does.
Don’t let the simplicity of Jal’s language fool you. His story is tragic and harsh. His manner might be sparse but it is straight an arrow, truth-telling writing. Consider this phrase, “gulping down pain like hot knives…” (p 86).
Quotes I had to quote, “Fear will always win against pain, and all I had to do was run” (p 32), “I knew I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees and beg a jallaba for mercy” (p 136), and “I had lived with hatred for so long that it was part of me, bleached into my bones and scarred onto my heart” (p 212).
Author fact: Jal becomes an accomplished rapper. He mentions War Child in this video for Amnesty International (around the 3:20 mark). The fact Natalie Merchant is also in this video is purely coincidental! 😉
Book trivia: Don’t expect photographs of young Jal toting an uzi or an AK47. His words are description enough. As an aside, Jal’s story prompted me to see the documentary about him and seek out his music.
Nancy said: Nancy said she could go on for pages “about the terrifyingly sad political accounts of bravery, pain, atrocities, and, unaccountably, hope, as they appear in recent nonfiction about Africa” (p 8) and mentions Jal’s book as an example.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Africa the Greenest Continent” (p 7).