- The Translator: A Memoir
The Translator opens with a proverb depicting the need to hope in an otherwise hopeless situation: “If God must break your leg, He will at least teach you to limp” (p. vii). The book recounts the experiences of a local self-made translator, but the story decries layer after layer of the social, political, economic, and religious complexities of Sudan and how an otherwise peace-loving people have been torn apart by greed, hate, and religious extremism. The text familiarizes readers with the meaning of Darfur and part of the ethnic constitution of the Sudan—the Zaghawa (non-Arab) and the Nomadic Arabs. Prior to the genocide, these two peoples had been living side by side for centuries. The Translator elaborates in graphic detail how the bravery and independence of Darfur women and their decision-making power, with a unique family structure and social-support system, are haphazardly crushed by genocide.
Chapters one through six recount the trip that Daoud (who has changed his name to Suleyman to assume a Chadian nationality) takes with Philip Cox, a British filmmaker who needs a translator and can take him into and out of Darfur. As they head into Darfur, they meet with large numbers of displaced people who tell them of indiscriminate murders, rapes, and mutilations of girls. Daoud and Philip are arrested shortly after they cross the border, and are almost killed by one of the militia groups that are allegedly sponsored by Western interests, radical Islamic groups, and China (the main exploiter of Southern Sudanese oil). Daoud’s childhood, school life, and courage to tell the world what is happening in Darfur is told. After he graduates [End Page 101] from school, he rejects his father’s request to take a wife and return home. He migrates to Libya and then Israel, where he is caught, jailed, and repatriated to an Egyptian prison. Through family and friends (very recurrent in the text), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, he avoids a return to Khartoum, where he would be killed. Instead, he is freed and makes his way to Darfur during the peak of the massacres.
Chapters four, five, six, and seven describe his journey home and his reduced expectation as he meets with human suffering, famine, wounded families, more rapes, and displaced human beings in the thousands. All through N’Djamena, Abeche, Tine, and Bahai, he sees only “vacant-eyed people[,] shocked by the sudden loss of their homes and families” (p. 46), walking everywhere and organizing themselves to defend what was left. Before he reaches Darfur, he visits his sister (Halima) for two days, and makes sure to gather information about her well being to carry back home. At home, the family is happy to see him, but is saddened by the timing. His village has not been attacked, but danger is on the way. When the attack comes, the defenders of his village, led by his brother, Ahmed, do a great job; but in the end, Ahmed loses his life, with 250 others. Daoud and other young men continue into Chad to become members of the displaced peoples of the world, but not without a hard struggle. He and six other young adults help the old, the women, and the children, as the rest of the villagers traverse the Sahara Desert into Chadian refugee camps. Their “social work” includes helping women deliver babies fathered by Janjaweed rapists, protecting the groups from attacks, fetching water in the desert to whet the throats of dying children, burying those who do not survive, and making sure that everyone is doing “fine.” These seven people desist from aiding others only when U.N. trucks appear out of far-off mirages
Chapters nine, ten, eleven, and twelve describe how members of the international community use Daoud’s help to determine if the atrocities amount to genocide. After seeing and hearing the squalor of the refugee camps, the stories of rapes, mutilation, and famine, and seeing the horror in the eyes of 30,000 people in a single camp, which...