Thursday, June 30, 2011

Literary Bite: When the Stars Fall to Earth

When the Stars Fall to Earth by Rebecca Tinsley follows five young Darfuri refugees as they run from their villages to escape certain death from the Sudanese militia. It’s an adventure/survival/story of inner strength that is engaging and heartbreaking.

As an accomplished BBC journalist with experience in the Sudan, Tinsley clearly knows her stuff…so why a novel? At the book talk I attended she explained that she wanted to make the story of Darfur more accessible. She cited Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns as her inspiration – a novel draws in readers who may not be interested in the policy aspect and inspires them to care about a subject they might otherwise overlook. (Hosseini’s books were about Afghanistan, for Tinsley it’s the Sudan.)

I think she did a great job – the story is engaging and makes the very complex Darfur genocide understandable. The story serves as a reminder of the humanity behind relentless statistics and casualty estimates in Sudan.

My only critique is that sometimes the story felt too intense. Tinsley makes you care about her characters (which is definitely a good thing), and then…well…it is Darfur…bad things happen and I get upset. At times Tinsley is boarder-line sententious* – I know she wants to communicate a human rights message and I commend her for it – but occasionally characters jump into a voice that seems a bit unrealistic.

I need another perspective on this book. Someone who doesn’t spend 9+ hours per day reading about mass atrocities in East Africa…because clearly my viewpoint is skewed. Any takers? Please read and get back to me!

Also, part of the book talks about a journalist who travels to Darfur and has children in refugee camps draw pictures of their experiences (umm is this character Tinsley? I think so…). Pretty crazy stuff – the kids’ pictures have been used as evidence in the International Criminal Court because they show the kinds of aircraft and artillery used by the Government of Sudan. 

According to this interview, Tinsley “started a charity that helps survivors of war and genocide rebuild their lives. The profits from my novel go to our projects in Africa, giving a helping hand to survivors who are already making an enormous effort to give their children options they never had.” So that’s a win.

(Sidenote: Darfur is in the western region of Sudan, a country in East Africa. I don't like excessive use of "Africa" to specify place. Africa is a continent not a country.) (Sorry, that was a mini-Mollie-rant. I can't control it.)

*Sententious - given to excessive moralizing; self-righteous.