A Long Walk to Water begins as the parallel stories of Salva, a young boy in the Southern Sudan of 1985 and Nya, a young Sudanese girl in the year 2008.
Salva once had the life of a well-to-do villager's son. His father owned many cows. He attended school. He herded the cows. But when the rebels arrived, shooting at everyone in the village, his life changed in an instant. Now he is alone. Get to the next hill, the next watering hole, the next day. This is the mantra that keeps him going, one painful step at a time, searching for years for a safe haven - across deserts, war zones and countries.
Nya's life consists of providing water for her family. When the brackish pond is full, she walks hours each day - first to the pond to collect water, then home, carrying a full container upon her head. After a quick meal of thin gruel, she has enough time for a second trip. During the months when the pond is dry, her family relocates to a temporary shelter near a dry lake bed. The work is easier there. Nya spends all day digging in the mud, waiting for subterranean water to fill the hole she has dug with her bare hands. She scoops out the water, one gourd full at a time and waits for the hole to refill. It is tedious work and takes all day, but at least she does not have to walk for miles in the heat with the heavy water atop her head.
Park's minimal use of dialogue fits the stark landscape and mood of the story,
The nurse, a white woman, was talking to Nya's mother. "Her sickness came from the water," the nurse explained. "She should drink only good clean water. If the water is dirty, you should boil it for a count of two hundred before she drinks it."Nothing else needs to be said. How can a mother choose between dehydration and cholera for her children?
Nya's mother nodded that she understood, but Nya could see the worry in her eyes.
The water from the holes in the lakebed could be collected only in tiny amounts. If her mother tried to boil such a small amount, the pot would be dry long before they could count to two hundred.
As Salva's arduous journey continues, the years add on until Park has woven his story from the Sudanese Civil War years into the modern day Sudan of Nyla's time, of our time. Sudan is Africa's largest country, full of wildlife and riches and oil and beauty and war and poverty and genocide and starvation. The reader can sense that the two stories will intertwine, but is at first, unsure how. When it becomes apparent how the lives of Salva and Nyla will intersect, it almost unbelievable, considering the circumstances. And yet, their stories are true. Despite the overwhelming odds against Salva's survival, and Nyla's fragile subsistence existence, they do survive.
Salva, after more than ten years of wandering becomes one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, miraculously chosen from the untold tens of thousands of people in Kenyan refugee camps- chosen to start a new life in the United States. And with his new life, he returns to repair his old one.
In an interview, author Linda Sue Park says that this was an easy book to write because she let Salva's story speak for itself. Linda Sue Park gave Salva's powerful story a voice. Brief and straightforward, A Long Walk to Water is inspiring for its truth and simplicity. Park eschews sentimentalism and allows Salva's understated dignity, perseverance and virtue to awe the reader. No embellishment is necessary. This is a compelling story. Highly recommended.
Review copy provided by NetGalley. Due on shelves, November 15, 2010.
Linda Sue Park talks about A Long Walk to Water.
Watch Salva and see the work of his creation, the non-profit, Water for Sudan.
The November 2010 edition of National Geographic Magazine offers two feature articles on Sudan, "Sudan's Shaky Peace" and "The Lost Herds are Found." Both are well worth reading.