Franz Kafka once wrote, “I believe, one should read only such books, which bite and sting. If the book, which we read, does not wake us with a blow on the head,as with a fist hammering on our skulls, then why do we read it? We need the books, which affect affect us like a disaster, a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must the axe be for the frozen sea in us.”
The Translator by Daoud Hari is definitely one of those books that Kafka describes. The words that Hari use are simple, but the message is powerful. The story that he tells is filled with horror and tragedy. But underneath all that there is hope. Hope for a better future for his people struggling to survive in the war torn area of the Sudan known as Darfur. A place that has often been in the news of late stories told by reporters in short sound bites before the anchors move on to another story and the reporters return to their comfortable lives. To me those new stories always make the conflict seem so far away, so impersonal and often doesn’t stay with me. The exact opposite can be said when reading Hari’s memoir.
There is nothing more personal than to read the first hand account of an event through the eyes of someone who lived it. They weren’t there because some new organization paid them to be, they were there because they didn’t have a choice. Daoud Hari survived the attack that destroyed his village and made it safely to a refuge camp in Chad. Once there he could have meeked out a life for himself and perhaps emigrated to another country that wasn’t affected by the war. Instead he chose to return to Darfur again and again. Using his language skills to guide reporters and aid workers through the war ravaged countryside so that they could get the story of what was happening out to the rest of the world. He thought nothing about the risk that he was taking, knowing that if he was caught by the government militia or even by any of the Darfurian fighters that he could be killed.
Hari’s story is very moving and it sucked me in right from the start. When you read it you feel as though he is sitting across from you telling his story. There is a deeply personal connection between him as an author and you as the reader that it doesn’t feel as though you are separated by pages. As with any conversations among people he sometimes goes off on a tangent letting the story pull him (and us along with him) to where it needs to go. Hari holds nothing back. He doesn’t sugar coat the horrors and he is able to evoke strong emotions from the reader. There were times that I was almost brought to tears. It has been a long time since I’ve read something that made me feel as much as Hari’s The Translator. His words have power and they stay with you long after you are done reading them.
In Short: An amazing first person account of the horrors that are happening now in Darfur. An amazing story that everyone should read.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Next Up: Sephardi Entrepreneurs in Jerusalem: The Valero Family 1800-1948 by Joesph B Glass and Ruth Kark and The 13th Reality: The Journal of Curious Letters by James Dashner