Day 26 Without Countertops

I’ve decided to add a little list to this otherwise plain jane blog: a list of books I am reading/have read. I just finished reading What Is The What. I am speechless. Or rather, I’m not. I’m not allowed to be. You can’t keep a book like this to yourself. And you certainly can’t read a book like this and then go back to complaining about the price of gas or the fact that it wasn’t all that sunny out today. You just can’t.

The narrator, who spent his formative years outrunning his would-be assassins across the borders of three countries in Africa during the war in Sudan, wouldn’t allow you to keep this book to yourself. You would feel compelled, like I am, to tell people about it. You would feel compelled, like I am, to log on to your online library account and put on hold any book you could get your hands on about the history of Sudan. You would find yourself wanting to immerse your whole being in the struggle of people who just want the simplest of things. You would find yourself asking yourself how hope remains a viable thing in times of so much destruction.

I’m mentioning this book specifically because I am struck by the power of several forces all working in conjunction to force a book about modern day genocide in Africa into the hands of a middle class white urbanite. The real-time-ness of this all is something worth studying, I think. I’m not an expert on history, but it seems like there is something unprecedented about being able to read about a major event like the mass murders of thousands and thousands of people just months after it’s happened. In a bound book, no less. A whole twelve years of a young man’s life, and his country’s struggle, was just spelled out for me. This happened in my lifetime. While I was able to point out Sudan on a map. While I was going about the business of going to work, buying groceries, listening to the radio…

I don’t know how soon the first autobiographies of Holocaust survivors were published after the end of WWII. I seem to remember learning in school that it was difficult for survivors to write their stories, to feel they had anything worth saying after the fact… and here we have books, a handful even, of stories from Sudan, even as the war is still fresh in some regions. It’s astounding to me.

I’m not sure how else to describe this feeling. I’m not driven by an activist’s energy, so my inclination isn’t to run out and board a plane and ask how I can help solve the crisis. I hope that this book reaches people who can absorb the lessons of war in their lifetime, even as they are experiencing it. I’m not entirely hopeful that war is an entirely avoidable thing, human nature being what it is. I AM hopeful that, very soon, in our increased ability to immediately catalogue crisis and tell the world about it, it won’t take losing a limb to understand war is hell. That it won’t take losing your family to understand how violence begets violence. That slowly empathy will replace vengeance and that we might overcome our human instinct to forget the past.