The personal adversity Halima Bashir encounters during her young life makes Tears of the Desert an absorbing memoir. That she also describes the tragedies experienced by her family and her tribe in Darfur - the region of Sudan where genocide has claimed the lives of 400,000 Africans, and forced another 2.5 million into refugee camps - makes it an even more compelling book.
Because she has taken a public stance against the Arab government in Sudan, 29 - year - old Bashir fears for her life, and is reluctant to venture from her tiny London apartment. Tears of the Desert opens there, in a poetic sequence with Bashir rocking her son in her arms, shifting to memories of her father running his fingers through her hair when she was a child. Then the description jarringly shifts to Bashir as a young adult being raped and tortured by Arab soldiers.
Bashir's life began with much promise. Born in a hut and raised by a goat herder, she displayed superior intelligence and was sent to boarding school. She excelled in her schoolwork, and finished medical school at the time the Sudanese government began sponsoring lawless militias, the Janjaweed, to attack tribes in Darfur. Working in a hospital emergency ward, she was compelled to speak out about the violence after treating more than 40 schoolgirls who were held captive, beaten and raped.
Bashir thus became a target and was kidnapped, tortured and repeatedly raped herself. On returning to her village, she witnessed the Janjaweed attack by helicopter and on horseback, which killed her father and separated her from her mother and siblings. After a long and treacherous journey, Bashir eventually escaped to London, where she was reunited with her husband, also a Sudanese refugee. It was there that she decided to write Tears of the Desert, telling her story to journalist Damien Lewis, in an attempt to exorcise some of her personal demons and hoping to inspire the rest of the world to stop the bloodshed. This is a beautifully written book that describes the pain of a single refugee and the heartache of an entire African culture. John T. Slania is a journalism professor at Loyola University in Chicago.