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War Child: A Child Soldier's Story Hardcover – February 3, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

As a young kid barely able to carry a gun, Jal, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, witnessed and perpetrated unspeakable brutality in his country’s civil war, but he has not only found refuge in the U.S. but also become an international rap star for peace. His violent memories are graphically relayed in this powerful autobiography. At age 9, he smashed faces with machetes as his friend plunged a bayonet into an enemy’s stomach. What is amazing in this story is how Jal has been able to let go of his rage. His family gone, he was adopted by a British aid worker, who took him to Kenya, where he struggled in school. But eventually, inspired by Gandhi, King, and Mandela, he turned to music and the idea of rapping for peace (“no tribalism, nepotism, and racism in my motherland”). And his songs climbed the charts. With the intense personal story, Jal also brings in political issues not confronted in other books about the Sudanese War, including the crucial role of oil (“black gold”) in the ethnic conflict. --Hazel Rochman


"Disturbing and visceral...Jal tells his story in spare, direct, and searing prose that leaves nothing to the imagination and offers a close-up view of the damage done to the psyches of children turned into warriors." --Library Journal
"Frank, unsparing...[A] searing portrait of a war-torn youth turned community advocate and role model."--Kirkus Reviews
"Powerful...[an] intense personal story." --Booklist
"There's no glamour here, no pitched battles, only unimaginable misery... Utterly grounded, specific and real... You'll come away from this book loving Emmanuel Jal."--Washington Post
"Fast-paced...stark...a provocative challenge." --The New York Times

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1 edition (February 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312383223
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312383220
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,423,957 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Victoria on December 28, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have been wanting to read this book for years and finally purchased a little more than a month ago and was very excited to begin. The first 50 pages or so were difficult but manageable as the horrors that Emmanuel saw were unbelievable, yet something that should be shared. I finally put the book down for good yesterday at page 104 after walking away from it for several weeks distancing myself from the horrors of war that he and other children were forced to endure.

Emmanuel did an excellent job of recapturing the horror, fear, and impossibility of his situation. My heart exploded when he watched in horror what was done to his family and knowing that he was not only too young to witness these horrible acts, but also because he was too young to even understand some of the events that were occurring. His descriptions were vivid and life-like...I still remember vividly the horror I felt when he described the events between he and his friend during training.

My intent of this review is not to bash the book as it was very well written and drew you in. However, I do wish there were more reviews avaialable before I purchased the book that let me know how emotionally draining and heart-wrenching it was to read. I have never not finished a book that I thought was well-written with a great story line...However, the horrors of this situation truly made reading anymore unbearable.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There are few first person accounts from Sudanese refugees and none that I know of from former 'lost boy' who actually served in the SPLA. This frightening, honest, gritty, and often unsettling account of the events that shaped Jal's life is well worth reading. It is one of those books where the substance is so critically important that it overshadows any shortcomings in the writing.

War Child is the autobiography of Emmanual Jal and details his journey from Sudanese refugee to international rapper. From the outset, we know the beginning and the end of the story as it is outlined in the first chapter.

Jal's story begins as he is forced to flee with his family from village to village in order to escape civil war. At age 7 he is told that he is to go to school so that he can be part of Sudan's future. But given a turn of events he is 'educated' by the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and becomes a child soldier. Eventually, he becomes a 'Lost Boy' adoptee of British aide worker, Emma McCune which leads him on a path to spiritual and emotional healing. The book leads up to the present day where he is a popular Christian rapper and social advocate for change in the Sudan.

But this book is not an easy read. And it is not for the faint of heart. It deals with a young boy growing up in a brutal and unforgiving environment. He speaks of all the atrocities that occurred (and continue to occur) in Sudan. This includes the brutalities of war, cold blooded killing, rape, starvation, and death. Jal's survival is as much due to luck as it is due to his intelligence and his skill. Jal writes in short, punctuated chapters. The sparse prose may reflect the fact that English is his third language but also suits the subject matter well.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
You may have heard of Emmanuel Jal before this. He is, after all, an international rapper. A famous person. So you may be surprised to find that he was also a boy soldier; a boy abandoned by his father; a boy whose one emotion for a very long time was hatred.

Emmanuel was born in the Sudan to a father who is of the Nuer tribe and a mother who is half Nuer and half Dinka. He's not sure exactly when he was born but he thinks it was around 1980. He also says that for the first three years of his life there was peace in that troubled land. A peace he does not remember. This tribal identification is a very important part of the book. Sometimes, Emmanuel calls his people "pure Africans" and their enemies "African Arabs"; sometimes he talks of tribe; sometimes of religion (his people were Christian)). But, of course, you probably guessed that already. The Sudanese war (a war about race, tribe, religion and, most of all, oil) has been raging for years.

Emmanuel's book then is one of those rare books that tells us what this heart-wrenching conflict is like on the ground. What a little boy sees. One of the first things he sees are Arabs beating his mother and uncle and stealing the family's meager rations. He remembers being taken from one village to the next, always with the promise that this (this next) village will be safer. (It never is; it is bombings, shootings, fire and rape--over and over and over again.)

Finally his father leads an SPLA movement to get the boys to Ethiopia where there is no war; where there is food. The boys board a ship that sinks. Still, somehow, forty of the boys survive. Their parents come looking for them. But Emmanuel's father does not come. He is an SPLA big shot; he does not care about his son except as cannon fodder.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have to admit, I was not strong enough to get all the way through this memoir. Although it is extremely well-written, gripping and vivid, the tale it tells is just so awful and depressing that after a few chapters, I could not read any more. The same thing happened to me recently when I tried to read "The Grapes of Wrath". Due to the current economic climate, Steinbeck's great novel was just too painful a read.

Would I recommend this book to others? The answer is definitely "yes" if the reader wants to know more about the horrors of war and racism. It is also a good book to read if you find yourself thinking that you are living a hard life or that life has been unfair to you. This book will make you count your blessings. It is like a hard slap to the face.

The curious thing is that I have no problem watching films that deal with these types of horrors. As upsetting and depressing as they may be, they only last around 2 hours. A book like this takes me many more hours to read, and I found it just too emotionally grueling. I am almost ashamed to admit that. But it is the truth.

I may go back and read more, because the story apparently has a somewhat happy ending...I just need to grit my teeth and gird my emotional loins.
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