Review: Tears of the Desert

“The onrush of bodies approached in a heaving, panicked mass. Sayed and I went forward to meet them.” p. 209

Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur by Halima Bashir, with Damien Lewis.
One World Trade Paperbacks, Ballantine Books, Random House, New York, 2009.
Adult memoir, 335 pages including extras.
Not leveled.

Halima Bashir was an unusually lucky girl from birth, when her white eyelash was a good omen.  Combined with hard work, her luck held as she was able to gain an education (unusual for a village girl) and even became a top national scholar, gaining a rare admittance into medical school.  Unfortunately, she lived in Darfur and was a witness to the genocide there.  This is her story of survival among unspeakable horrors.

Tears of the Desert cover resized

This memoir was quite difficult to summarize.  Bashir’s life is a true story that reads like a novel.  Any small portion of this book could be seen as remarkable, but the fact that it all happened and she stood to tell the tale is a miracle.

I am, by world standards, incredibly privileged.  While I don’t know every person who might come across this blog review, just the fact that you are able to read this means you are literate and have some access to the internet.  By her own community’s standards, Bashir is also privileged in many ways (first by having access to education and a career, then simply by surviving and escaping).  However she also is disadvantaged by those same standards – pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor meant that she passed 18 without marrying, was placed in grave danger beyond that of an ordinary citizen, and cannot currently return to her country or people.

Bashir does a great job of respecting and illustrating these tensions.  She calls out FGM as a despicable and unnecessary practice, but she studies the chemical properties of her grandmother’s folk remedies and maintains many of her beliefs and cultural practices.  All the aspects of her early life, and how she balanced that in London, are well described and felt understandable even when they were worlds apart from anything in my experiences.

I wasn’t prepared for the level of racism Dr. Bashir faced.  Sometimes it seems that Americans (overshadowed by our own racist legacy) forget the racism elsewhere in the world.  In the Sudan, the conflict seems to be between black African tribes (historically owners of the best land and watering holes) and the Arabic groups (given power by the British during their withdrawal from Sudan).

There are many potential triggers in this book.  Bashir and many other women and children are brutally raped and beaten.  Men and children are forcibly conscripted, detained, beaten, and murdered.  There is wide-scale slaughter, both with modern weapons and with.  Infants are burned to death.  Female genital mutilation (also sometimes called female circumcision) occurs.  Starvation, the preparation of livestock, eating insects.  Some medical procedures are graphically described as are some traditional cures that stand in when medicine is not available.  This book is not for children and probably not even teens, only for adults.

So far most of the books I’ve read on Sudan have been MG children’s novels.  However, as I am gradually trying to extend my reach and especially to read more about Africa, this has been one of the best books I’ve read dealing with genocide.  If you do choose to read this, the paperback edition had several extras which I felt really enhanced the book and gave a nice conclusion to her story.

It seems wrong to call a book about genocide a “favorite,” but this book was balanced, as positive as reasonable, and written in an engaging and informative manner.  Highly recommended.

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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