From the Jewish library: ‘Tears of the Desert’

Tears of the Desert: Survival in Darfur by Halima Bashir with Damien Lewis, Random House, 2008

By Sheila Orysiek

Sheila Orysiek

Sheila Orysiek

SAN DIEGO — There are a few major determinants which influence our lives upon which we have no control such as where, when and to whom we are born.  Coming into the world as a member of a black African tribe in the Sudanese desert in the last several decades, is a distinct disadvantage.  The country has been torn asunder and bathed in war and blood.  No one and nothing has been spared.

Halima Bashir, though surrounded by a loving family, loyal friends and a cohesive tribal and village society, experiences the best and the worst of the human condition.  She is most fortunate in her parents.  Her father, wealthy in village terms, recognizes her inherent intelligence and is determined to see that she is as well educated as possible.  She realizes her – and his – goal when she graduates as a medical doctor.

However, the conflagration of a savage war brought by Arab invaders determined to eliminate the black African population, sweeps away everyone and everything Bashir holds dear.  She, too, is hunted down, gang raped and threatened with death.  Her only hope is to escape from the country.

Bashir brings to life the emotional attachment to family and tradition she enjoyed as a child living in a remote tribal village; the games she played, the songs, food, celebrations and beliefs.  As well, through her words the reader experiences the fear of imminent death and then the disconnect, loneliness, trials and successes of an immigrant seeking asylum in a foreign country that is totally alien to everything she knows.

The author becomes a spokeswoman for her country, trying to add a woman’s voice to the effort to awaken the world to the horror that has overtaken Sudan.  As part of this effort, she is asked to speak to a group of doctors meeting at the Holocaust Museum in Nottingham, England.  This is Britain’s first Holocaust memorial and education center.  Bashir describes the shock of walking around the two acres of lovely gardens which surround the museum, and then seeing the horrific pictures inside.  She immediately  felt a kinship with the people in the pictures.

This book is well written and well worth reading.


Orysiek is a freelance writer who specializes in the arts and literature.  She may be contacted via [email protected]. Comments intended for publication in the space below must be accompanied by the letter writer’s first and last name and by his/ her city and state of residence (city and country for those outside the U.S.)

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