The Translator: a Tribesman’s Memory of Darfur by Daoud Hari

Memories of this heart wrenching and deeply personal story of one man’s experience in Darfur still haunt me. I listened to most of this book on audio, which I think enhanced the power of the story. Daoud, a member of the Zaghawa tribe, comes from a story-telling culture, and the rhythm of his spoken words has a special cadence and poetry. You will learn a lot about the tribal way of life—and possibly learn to appreciate camels as much as he does—as well as the way life is changing as the world around changes. You will also come to understand the nature of the conflict in Darfur more deeply, its impact on various tribal groups as well as life in the refugee camps. And you will grow to love this simple man deeply and pray for him and his people. Amazon

The Shadow of the Sun by Kyszard Kupuscinski

I have read a number of books by this noted Polish journalist and have learned much from all of them. For over 40 years, Kapunscinksi observed and reported on the political landscape of post-colonial Africa, having more narrow life and death escapes during revolutions and civil unrest than Indiana Jones did in search of the lost ark. The author combines the heart of a poet with the skill of an academic observer as he chronicles the disintegration of societies and the building of others. I recommend this book because it ranges across several countries and periods in post-colonial African history, rather than focusing on one, providing a wider and broader introduction as a framework for understanding the events of our day. If you are interested in African history, any of his books are worth reading. Amazon

My Father’s Paradise, a Son’s Search for His Family’s Past by Ariel Sabar

I picked up this book in a little bookstore in Bandon Oregon as a possible interesting summer read. Fortunately, I had few pressing responsibilities at the time because I literally could not put this book down. Ariel carefully and lovingly describes the life of his father, Yona Sabar, an Aramaic speaking Kurdish Jew who lived in northern Iraq. If you didn’t know that such people existed, you are not alone. When Yona eventually emigrates to Israel and attends university, the language professors are astonished to find what appears to be a modern day Rip Van Winkle, waking up centuries after they thought Aramaic had disappeared as a spoken language. Yona’s people are remnants of the tribe of Judah that did not return to Jerusalem during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, but remained scattered in the hills of Assyria (now Iraq). Yona’s life straddles several countries, cultures and what seems like centuries of change. From a simple village youth to a despised refugee to a young Israeli who refused to allow poverty to destroy his passion for learning, Yona eventually becomes a highly regarded professor of ancient languages in Southern California, where his son Ariel enjoys all the freedoms of an American life style. Ariel’s rediscovery of his father’s journey gives us an opportunity to get to know a culture that was forever swept away by Saddam Hussein. Amazon

The House at Sugar Beach: in Search of a Lost African Childhood by Helene Cooper

This fascinating biography describes the life of Helene Cooper, a descendant of one of the American black freemen who founded Liberia. If you are not familiar with the history of this country, it is unlike any other in Africa in some ways, and sadly very much like it in terms of violence. The black freedmen in Liberia adopted the life style of the white slave owners of the American south, and treated the native African people the same way they had been treated, resulting in the perpetuation of the abuses they were meant to be escaping from in a new form.

Helene grew up in a 22 room mansion, but her life of privilege was cut off in April 1980 when the government was overthrown and many leaders killed. Escaping to America led to a challenging life as an American teenager, followed by university and a career as a foreign correspondent. But Helene avoided African assignments until she felt compelled to return to Liberia and unravel the memories of her childhood. The result is a fascinating picture of one nation’s history and culture from multiple points of view. Amazon

Everything is Broken: a Tale of Catastrophe in Burma by Emma Larkin

When cyclone Nargis hit Burma (Myanmar) on May 2, 2008, all eyes were turned toward this closed country. Almost more riveting than the cyclone and its devastation was the hard heartedness of the government who relentlessly refused aid from all those who offered. Eventually, most of us lost interest in the situation from the lack of information. In this difficult context, Emma Larkin was able to get into the country and collect first hand accounts of the cyclone and its aftermath. She expertly weaves these accounts with social history and analysis to provide a very readable description of what Open Doors has listed as the number 2 most oppressive country (following North Korea). If you would like to understand better what Burma is like and how it got to be the way it is, I recommend this book as a great introduction. Amazon

When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa by Peter Godwin

In this book, Peter Godwin chronicles the descent of his parents into into the frailty and brokenness of old age while simultaneously describing the descent of the country where they live (Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia) into its own kind of brokenness and chaos. The effect magnifies the heartbreak of both and creates a vidid picture of how the lives and destinies of individuals are caught up in the history of the times in which they live. Godwin’s style is engaging and the book is well paced. Anyone with an interest in this area of Africa will learn much about the madness that consumes so many who have power in government, but also the steadfast goodness of those who resist the madness. Amazon

Keeping Hope Alive: One Woman—90,000 lives changed by Hawa Abdi

Dr. Hawa Abdi turned her farmland into a massive camp for internally displaced people when the Somali government collapsed in 1991. She has dedicated herself to providing help for people whose lives have been shattered by violence and poverty, disregarding the clan lines that  often divide the country. She inspired her daughters, Deqo and Amina, to become doctors. Her life story is a fascinating window into a culture that oppresses women (she had an arranged marriage at age 12) and a woman who had the strength to overcome. Amazon

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit

Everyone has an opinion about Israel and in the midst of conflicting points of view, I found this book to be both a very helpful overview of the last 100 years of history as well as a deeply personal and sometimes poetic description of its contradictions. Ari Shavit is the great-grandson of an early Zionist Jewish family from Great Britain and is uniquely positioned to tell this story. He captures with great feeling the poignancy of traveling with a displaced Palestinian to his ancestral home, the way the screams of tortured prisoners forever changed him, and the strength, creativity, and diversity of the Jewish inhabitants of Israel. Amazon