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Our oldest daughter, Ariana, received this book from the Indianapolis Children’s Museum during one of the programs we’re involved in. She promptly tore through it and asked if we could read it together as a family, too. After putting it off for way too long (I’ll admit, I wasn’t terribly excited about it at first glance), we finally bit the bullet and read this together. The book is 133 pages and we read it in three days.
Yep. Three days.
What the Book Is About
The New York Times bestseller A Long Walk to Water begins as two stories, told in alternating sections, about two eleven-year-olds in Sudan, a girl in 2008 and a boy in 1985. The girl, Nya, is fetching water from a pond that is two hours’ walk from her home: she makes two trips to the pond every day. The boy, Salva, becomes one of the “lost boys” of Sudan, refugees who cover the African continent on foot as they search for their families and for a safe place to stay. Enduring every hardship from loneliness to attack by armed rebels to contact with killer lions and crocodiles, Salva is a survivor…Amazon
I was surprised by how compelling the story was, even though it was somewhat fictionalized by Park. But I read up enough to know that it was true to Salva Dut’s story and many of the other Lost Boys of Sudan. We got totally wrapped up in the story. They loved it so much that every time I’d finish a chapter, one or more of the kids (and sometimes Courtney, too!) would ask me to read another chapter. And then another. And then another.
The main reason I wanted to read this story was to give my kids a glimpse of what life is like in places where the resources are vastly less than our very rich country. It certainly did that. But it was far more. The story invited us into loss, suffering, perseverance, compassion, and the fragility of life.
And, as the mark of any book I love, I balled like fourteen times in reading it to the kids.
What I Really Liked
I enjoyed giving the kids a vivid picture of life in a very different culture and setting. The book didn’t shy away from the horrors Salva faced in many years, though it wasn’t grotesque about it either. I appreciated how the book got to see examples of both noble and ignoble characters. This included weaknesses and frailty in the protagonist. It was a very human story, where the perils of war and hunger are the crucible through which temptations are faced—sometimes well and sometimes not. And I was grateful that the book led into many other conversations. This was especially true as we learned more about Sudan through different resources (more on that below).
What I Didn’t Like
Of course, it’s not a Christian book and I didn’t expect it to be, but the main character wonders many times how he could be so “lucky” and I kept reminding the kids that it wasn’t luck, but God’s kindness. And as I mentioned above, the author admits that some parts of the story were fictionalized. This was a little confusing when I had to explain to the kids that most of the book was real, but not necessarily all of it.
The Bottom Line
A Long Walk to Water is a great book that not only displays depth of character and perseverance through adversity, but also gives an honest and important glimpse into the plight of much of the globe. It’s an enthralling story that’s good for all ages, though our tender-hearted five-year-old struggled with the sad parts.
Discussion for the Family
How is life in Sudan like yours? How is it different?
How do you think you would have responded if you were in Salva’s place?
Can you imagine being excited to get to go to school? Can you imagine what life would be like where you need to work all day just to survive?
What did you think about the Uncle’s words to just focus on the next goal? Why did he tell Salva that? Does that sound anything like “Don’t worry about tomorrow”?
When they were traveling through the desert and saw the group lying there, how did the people in Salva’s group respond? Why did some not want to help? Why did others help them? Does Jesus call us to give only after we make sure we have enough? Or do we give even if it might endanger us?
What are the many ways that God the Father protected Salva through his life?
Do you ever feel like Salva, where it seems that circumstances are too hard to keep going? What do you do when that happens?
How did Uncle Jewiir remind you of Jesus?
Is Jesus with you, even if you have to face terrible circumstances like Salva? How does this story remind you to give thanks to God for what you have? How is Jesus the only hope for Sudan?
A documentary about the Lost Boys and Sudan (warning: it shows some graphic images of death and an upper-body nude woman giving birth to a stillborn child)
The Good Lie is a fictionalized movie about the Lost Boys of Sudan, which does a great job of showing a story that makes their plight very real (PG-13)