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A Long Walk to Water book cover

A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park;
Clarion Books: New York, 2010; $16

Have you ever found yourself running as fast as you could but not really sure where you were going? Maybe you were trying to clear your thoughts or simply running for pleasure. Maybe, like eleven-year-old Salva Dut, you were trying to get away from something. Have you ever had to perform a task so terrible and tedious that you can’t wait for it to be over? Nya, also eleven, must do this every day.

The year is 1985, and Salva is living in the village Loun-Ariik with his family in southern Sudan. One day, while Salva is at school, he and his classmates hear gunshots. It is not long before they realize that the Sudanese civil war has finally arrived at their village and is being fought just outside the schoolhouse. The students all hurry outside and are instructed by their teacher to hide in a nearby bush. After Salva reaches the bush, he realizes it is important for his survival to get away from the fighting. By himself, he begins to run away from his homeland and the Sudanese war, towards Ethiopia. There Salva remains, separated from his family, until the Ethiopian refugee camps are shut down six years later. Now that the camps are closing, many people begin to lose hope, but not Salva. He remembers that there are refugee camps in Kenya and leads about 12,000 young men and boys, called “the lost boys,” safely to Kenya.

In 2008, Nya, also living in southern Sudan, must make the trip from her house to a nearby pond to get water. She carries a large plastic container on her head, and the trip there and back takes her the entire morning. When Nya comes home, her mother gives her boiled sorghum meal for lunch, then she leaves once again, to get more water from the pond. Each day, she walks twice, to the pond and back, to collect the family’s water. One day, two men come to Nya’s village and begin to discuss plans for building a well. At first the process goes very slowly, and the only water that comes to the well is very muddy. Nya wonders if the well will ever be anything more than a dream.

Reading this book made me realize how lucky I am. Every day I have enough to eat, enough to drink, and my family is always with me. Here we have two eleven-year-old children, both making long, tireless journeys and getting by on very little. Salva is part of a cultural group called the Dinka, and Nya is part of a group called the Nuer. I found out that the people of Sudan recently voted to split their country into two, in part because of irreconcilable differences between these tribes. Officials hope that it will stop the fighting. Hearing about problems such as this makes me very thankful to be living in America. Salva and Nya’s stories are ones of survival and perseverance, and both tales really inspired me.

Salva’s story, in particular, made a lasting impression on me, and I was shocked to find that the book was based on the true story of Salva Dut. The author, Linda Sue Park, had the chance to meet Salva, read his written accounts of the journey and conduct numerous interviews with him. Without giving away too much, I’ll say that Salva was eventually able to use his amazing talent in leadership, his initiative and innovation, as well as his perseverance, to do something even greater for others and make a difference in the lives of many. Also, towards the end of the book, Nya discovers that dreams can come true. A Long Walk to Water is one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read.

A Long Walk to Water Julia Elrod
Julia Elrod, 13
Oberlin, Ohio