Book Review: Songs of a War Boy

songs-of-a-war-boy

Songs of a War Boy – Deng Adut with Ben Mckelvey
Published by Hachette New Zealand

The true story of Deng Adut – Sudanese child soldier, refugee, man of hope.

This is the true story of a childhood stolen by war, of a young boy’s life ravaged by politics and tribal greed, and of a brother’s fierce love which endured all of the atrocities of war.

The word “inspiring” doesn’t seem adequate enough to capture how amazing this book, and this man, are. To overcome such adversity, to face such horror, to travel halfway across the world for a new chance at life, and to grab that chance with both hands and run with it…I can’t think of a better word, so inspiring will have to do.

The prologue of Songs of a War Boy begins with a poignancy that is echoed throughout the rest of the book:

Songs are of great importance to my people, the Dinka. They’re our avatars, and our biographies. They precede us, introduce us and live on after we die. They are also how our deeds escape our villages, and they pass on our code of morality, culture and law.

When I was a boy I dreamed of having my own songs, but now I am a man, and I have no songs. It’s likely I never will, in the traditional sense. For the Dinka, these songs are only for me. In the eyes of my culture, I am still a boy.

When I should have been going through the rituals of manhood, I was caught in a vicious war. By the time I was returned to my people, I was very much a westerner. My feet straddle the continents, and also the threshold of manhood.

Deng Adut’s story is not easy to read, in that it is difficult to imagine the horrors he had to endure when he should have been playing in his village with his family. It is powerful and heart-wrenching to read his first-hand account of the South Sudanese conflict; there is no glorification of war, and in his own words, Deng Adut is “…proud of some things I have done, and ashamed of others, but I own all of it, and I’ve reconciled with all of it. That’s why I am whole.”

This is an incredibly poignant, remarkable, inspirational story, and one that will tug at you for days after you’ve read the final page. It’s amazing how a child could endure what Deng Adut endured, yet as an adult, is able to see that life is a gift, and is able – and willing – to go on to do such brilliant things for himself, and for others.

Songs of a War Boy is more than one man’s story about the war that tore his country apart; it is the story of many, and as such, is full of hope not only for Deng Adut’s future, but the potential futures of refugees around the world. At a time when refugees are constantly seeking safety and opportunity far from their natural shores, this is a book that might make some people stop and change their attitudes towards others; reading a first-hand account of the difficulties in transitioning into a new culture will evoke sympathy where before there was perhaps none.

This book is incredibly thought-provoking, hopeful and (I know I’m  repeating myself!) inspiring, and with Christmas fast approaching, would make an excellent gift for the reader(s) in your life.

Thank you to Hachette NZ for my review copy.

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