When standing in the shower I noticed there are six taps of running water in my bathroom. The water that comes out is clear and clean, and it even comes in two temperatures – hot and cold! This observation might seem trivial, but when you read, “A Long Walk to Water”, you will understand why access to instant clean water is a gift we should appreciate.
Linda Sue Park wrote this story in 2011 to tell the story of Salva Dut, one of the lost boys of Sudan who was displaced during Sudan’s civil war in the 1980s. When the war came to his village, Salva (aged 11) ran into the bushes to escape, and so begins his long walk to safety and peace. Salva walked all the way to Ethiopia and stayed in a refugee camp for a number of years before being sent back to Sudan, and from there he led 1800 boys to a refugee camp in Kenya. After many years, Salva is selected for immigration to the US as a refugee. In the US, he begins a new life, but eventually his love for his home country draws him back to Sudan where he begin his charity project, “Water for Sudan”. Salva now lives in Southern Sudan drilling water pumps for Sudanese villages.
Salva’s story is the main work of this book, but at the beginning of each chapter, there is a fictional story of Nya, a Southern Sudanese girl who must walk twice a day to collect water for her family. The walk takes most of the day to complete. Nya can’t go to school as her whole life is dominated by the need for fresh water for her family.
Both stories draw to a climax which creates a wonderful ending (keep those tissues handy). Linda Sue Park has written this book for 10-14 year olds, so it’s not difficult to read, and it’s only 121 pages long. It would make a good read-aloud for a family.
It is written in a direct, simple style, but the depth of emotion felt by the characters is not lost; especially for a young reader. I could never relate to this story, because I’ve never experienced war, hunger or displacement, but Linda writes in such a way that you feel what the reader is feeling and it creates a empathetic bond between yourself and the main characters.
“Salva had never been so hungry. He stumbled along, somehow moving one foot ahead of the other, not noticing the ground he walked on or the forest around him or the light of the sky. Nothing was real except his hunger, once a hollow in his stomach but now a deep buzzing pain in every part of him.”
Salva’s story is heart-wrenching; I wondered at times how he had the will to keep going. There is a lot to learn from his character. At aged 11 he was a helpless, scared boy longing for his lost family. Despite this terrible hardship, he had respect for his elders, even though he was mistreated. Many times he could’ve given up and laid down to die, but he didn’t; his Uncle’s wise words and a will to survive kept him going. When he was older, he showed extraordinary leadership by guiding 1800 boys to Kenya. At the end of the book he returns to Southern Sudan and Salva’s compassion for people spills over, providing water across tribal boundaries. This was in stark contrast to the beginning of the book where children are seen as a burden and the tribes war with each other. I did some extra research on Salva’s story and discovered his Christian faith contributed to his perseverance, but it is not mentioned in the book.
I recommend this book for ages above 10. There is violence in the book, some of it is quite confronting, but the author has spared graphic details. Any child or adult that reads this book will be moved by the suffering of the Sudanese people, get a glimpse into their culture and realise that running clean water is precious, not to be taken for granted.
Publisher: Cengage Learning, Inc, USA, 2011
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