January 13, 2013
Miss America Abby says come walk with her
And her spotted dog, Elsa.
We do, and the moon shows in the daylight sky.
The wind whips her hair with its golden streaks.
In this place are stones, and Abby says
people are buried under the ground.
Since I know more people
Who have died than are alive, I like it here.
~~Viola (The Cemetery)
~~The Good Braider
In The Good Braider, after surviving harrowing attacks, witnessing the deaths of loved ones and living in constant repression, teen-age Viola escapes Sudanese terror via Cairo to live with her mother in Portland, Maine. Taking place during the years 1999-2003, this poignant novel, describes Viola’s journey from all that is familiar to her in Juba, South Sudan to the cold, bleak, but not unwelcoming, east coast of America. Although targeted for young adults, The Good Braider is a story for all adults.
THE GOOD BRAIDER came from a thousand places. I worked in Portland where half the novel is set. It was 2001 when many South Sudanese families had obtained refugee status. Catholic Charities in Maine worked to resettle many of the families between 1999 or so until 2005 when a Peace Accord was signed between southern Sudan and the Government of Sudan. I met many teenagers when they were first making their homes in the U.S., first attending U.S. schools, and first facing the challenges of living as Americans and, at the same time, honoring the African traditions of their elders. From the many stories I heard, research about the war in Juba, and travel to nearby Kenya, I wrote the novel.
We meet Viola in her village in Juba, where she lives with her mother Tereza, her grandmother, Habuba and her brother Francis. The village lives in constant fear from attack by government soldiers from Northern Sudan, soldiers who will not hesitate to kill or rape women and children. Viola’s family wants to escape to America to join other Sudanese refugees but the journey is dangerous and the wait long for the proper paperwork. Filled with deep sadness, pain, hope, joy and humor, The Good Braider tells this story of escape, waiting and resettlement.
The book is written in verse, a relatively new way of writing that some say is neither poetry nor prose but a hybrid of the two and especially appeals to teens. It makes strong use of white space and as Terry says, ‘ …demands pauses…’, and ‘…captures the intensity of a scene with spare language and breath.’ It also makes a quick read. But, I recommend that you do not read it quickly, instead savor every word and phrase. Note the chapter headings, the flow of the story, the historical details and context. Then go back and re-read passages and when you are finished read it again. This book is that good.
Beautiful imagery saturates every page. Viola’s voice:
I dream of America, where Uncle Marko lives.
I dream of the boy’s long back
and how his arms framed his body.
I dream of his hands
touching my face and my twisty braids.
I dream of freedom
And move to the sound in my head of the Congolese drums.
In a starred review, School Library Journal says, “…Farish so lyrically and poignantly captures Viola’s wrenching experience…” and “Viola’s memorable, affecting voice will go far to help students step outside of their own experience and walk a mile in another’s shoes.”
Portsmouth author, Terry Farish, has published numerous books for young adults, adults and children, among them A House in Earnest about the Vietnam War and the children’s book The Cat Who Liked Potato Soup. Terry is the director of the Connections Adult Literacy Program at the New Hampshire Humanities Council, where she works with immigrants and refugees from many countries to assist them in assimilating and adapting to life in America. Expect to see her in local bookstores and museums, coffee shops, the library and in yoga studios.
As I write this review, Terry is at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya teaching children how to read. To learn more about Terry please visit her website http://terryfarish.com/ and blog http://goodbraider.com/ where she is posting updates about her experiences in Africa.
Meet and talk with Terry Farish at the library on Monday, January 28 at 7pm in the Levenson Room, when the libraries monthly book group will discuss The Good Braider. Terry will join the discussion and answer your questions, read from The Good Braider and sign copies.
Published in the Sunday Herald, January 13, 2013
Review by Sherry Evans, Head of Public Services
Portsmouth Public Library (NH)