Weep Not, Refugee by Marie-Thérèse Toyi

a nutshell: this novel follows the endless trials of a Tutsi boy, Wache Wacheke Watachoka (‘Let Them Laugh, They Will Eventually Get Tired and then Keep Quiet’), who was born in a refugee camp to a Hutu teenager raped while she fled Burundi

a line: “Nothing is static under the sun. Rain goes back to clouds, dust feeds life and returns to dust, a refugee goes back home, and a free man goes into exile.”

an image: at one moment, the child viscerally depicts their country as having vomited the refugees out of its bosom, with machetes & bullets, giving their new host nothing to love in them

a thought: there were so many aspects of this book that piqued my curiosity – from the dedication to Mr Bill Clinton to the observations about conceptual/practical intelligence (fluent in speaking French but could they eat a language?) to the eloquence with which Toyi writes of how a nose shape could trigger enmity

a fact: in 2018 I interviewed Burundian journalists running a radio station in exile while I was working with the Rory Peck Trust (under the org’s old management, I hasten to add) and was seriously moved by their stories – you can read the interview via PDF

want to read Weep Not, Refugee? visit here*

(*Sorry for linking to Amazon Kindle – it’s the only edition I could find)

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

a nutshell: set in postwar Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, this is a vast & raw novel that delves into grief, loss, love – and the complex psychological struggles that often haunt survivors of civil war

a line“I fall down, I get up”

an image: looking up at a commercial airliner passes overhead from one country to another, Kai likens himself to a man drowning as a ship sails by; he wonders at the passengers’ ignorance of the self-devouring nation below while they drink wine and summon the cabin crew

a thought: though I found the first fifty or so pages languid/disengaging, The Memory of Love then grew on me immensely, yet I never shook off my dislike for the main characters Elias & Adrian (the latter is a Brit who’s loath to consider the idea that he’s neither wanted nor needed in Sierra Leone)

a fact: many of the novel’s characters are suffering from various conditions of post traumatic stress; in particular the book taught me about dissociative fugue – a disorder often precipitated by trauma, characterised by reversible amnesia for memories, personality, identity


want to read The Memory of Love? visit here

First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung

a nutshell: this compelling memoir relives a child’s horrendous struggle for survival under the Khmer Rouge regime

a line“I think how the world is still somehow beautiful even when I feel no joy at being alive within it”

an image: in the later chapters Ung repeatedly expresses immense self-hatred and guilt for the fact that, as a very young child, she once secretly took a handful of rice from the family stockpile during one of their times of extreme starvation and thus deprived her baby sister of a few grains; the way in which this memory plagues her is excruciatingly sad

a thought: the author’s introductory note pays tribute to the two million Cambodians – a quarter of the country’s population – who were systematically killed by the Khmer Rouge through execution, starvation, disease and forced labour from 1975-9; she adds, “If you had been living in Cambodia during this period, this would be your story too”

a fact: this memoir has been adapted into a film (produced and directed by Angelina Jolie), which premiered in 2017 in Siem Reap, Cambodia


want to read First They Killed My Father? visit here