Dream Freedom by Sonia Levitin;
Harcourt, Inc.: New York, 2000; $17
Dream Freedom is a beautiful book. As early as the foreword you can feel the anguish, the hope, and the love in every sentence:
This book was born from emotion. First came the shock that slavery still exists, in our own time, and that most people are oblivious to its existence.
And those two opening sentences are true. They really are. Slavery does exist. It's happening right now, in Africa. While you're playing kickball at recess a child might be taken away from his mother, a brother might be killed while trying to keep his sister from being taken. While you are at a theme park with your parents somebody else's mother might be made to become pregnant with her master's child, when she is already married and has another little one at home. While you're slurping up Pepsi and snacking on Cheetos someone's brother, uncle, daughter, mother, might be lucky to get a taste of the food the hogs eat. What the pigs eat is probably better than what some people are thrown.
One reason this book is so beautiful is that Sonia Levitin, the author, is not African herself. She is white. But she cares. Cares like it is her sister being torn away from her. Cares like we all should care. What happens to one person, or one family, or one country, affects us all. And Sonia Levitin is trying to get us all to see that, or at least want to see that.
Besides the parts about the fact that slavery does exist, there are chapters of the book about Marcus, a boy just like some of the children you might know. Marcus lives in America and his teacher is teaching his class about the slavery that's happening, and they are trying to help. You may not believe this, but some people in the book were strongly opposed to their children learning about slavery. A quote from one of the fathers in the book is "I know what Miss Hazel intends! She is using our children to become a national celebrity! Oh yes, you want your fifteen minutes of fame. Well, let me tell you, you're not going to get it at the expense of my son!" Miss Hazel then tries to tell him she couldn't care less about being on television. The father replies that he sends his son to school to learn the basics, not to get worked up about a bunch of primitives who have been fighting and killing each other since time began. If I were Miss Hazel, I think I would have about blown my top.
But then in the book you learn that some people might reason with the angry father. They say buying slaves to free them promotes capturing them, but I think the most important thing is to keep all of the people of the world free. We all have that right, no matter what color skin or what name. Slaves aren't even allowed to keep their names! They are given new Arab names! Think about how you would feel if someone stripped you of your home, your family, your way of living and even your name. That would be the most terrible fate on earth.
I would never mean to say all Arabs are bad, because you can't brand a race. Some of them are taking the Sudanese as slaves, but you can't dislike all of them. Most of them are people just like you and me. Like Aziz, in this book. Aziz didn't know what it was like for the slaves his father bought. But then one day he went with his father to buy slaves and he saw a girl being taken away from her sister, the only thing she had left of her own past. Also Aziz's father struck a man because he would not obey him. Aziz can't figure out how he is going to make it through the rest of his life, and sits in his bed thinking, It's a lie. It's a lie. They are exactly like us.
At the end of the book you learn these facts: in the civil war going on in Sudan, 1.9 million people in Southern and Central Sudan have died, and 4 million Sudanese have had to flee from their homes, leaving their houses, jobs, farms, food and toys behind.
Should anyone have to live like this? You decide.