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"Emmanuel Jal's profound memoir War Child, about his life as a boy and child soldier in Sudan's civil war in the mid-1980s . . . are worthy additions to the understanding of war and its catastrophic effects on children and societies where such bloodshed occurs . . . [War Child] provide[s] us with the necessary human contexts so that throughout the horror and destruction of places and human life, we do not forget that these sufferings are happening to human beings who, in the midst of such inhumanity, manage to remain hopeful, and for some, survive. . . Emmanuel Jal's memoir offers another human face for child soldiers, an experience that may seem far-fetched to many, but believable if we allow ourselves to see the humanity of others. His journey has brought us to see intimately what war does to children, families and societies, and the struggle to recover and—more important—the strength and resilience of children. The question is whether children used in wars are lost, or if it is our inaction that makes them lost. Jal's story is also an invitation to the power of music, the power of finding meaning in a shattered life. Although I celebrate Jal's survival, I am heartbroken about the possibility of refocusing lives such as his, lives that can add to and deepen our understanding of the power of goodness and the human spirit."—Ishmael Beah, author of A Long Way Gone, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
"Sudanese hip-hop musician and humanitarian recounts his time as a child soldier. In frank, unsparing detail, Jal details his experiences during the early 1980s, when the civil war 'grew as I did.' He treasured the limited time he spent with his mother while his father fought for freedom in the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). As his township in Bantiu devolved into a bullet-ridden war zone, Jal, his family and countless others traveled from one burned-out village to the next in search of food and shelter. Separated from his mother during a raid, Jal later heard she was dead. When soldiers from the SPLA came to take him to 'school' in Ethiopia, he did not protest. What he encountered when he arrived was an area decimated by famine, riddled with death and disease, and devoid of hope. Jal was at an SPLA military training camp, where he was 'educated' to become one of the 17,000 'Lost Boys of Sudan,' child soldiers. Carrying an AK-47 that was taller than he was, the boy learned to fight and soon was sent to war. He and other young soldiers killed countless Arabs, but savage conditions eventually forced them to defect. They finally reached the safe haven town of Waat, where Jal was adopted by a British aid worker. In Kenya, he went to school and began singing as therapy. Jal doesn't gloss over the fact that he emerged from his childhood scarred and angry, the trauma of his time in war rendering him uncertain of places and dates, even his own exact age. Since being thrust into the spotlight as a musician, he has focused his energies on projects aimed at war-torn communities like the ones in which he was raised. A touching reunion with his sister, a studio album and a 2008 documentary about his life make for a happy ending. Searing portrait of a war-torn youth turned community advocate and role model."—Kirkus Reviews
"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, Booklist
"During his childhood, Sudanese hip-hop artist Jal was among the many young soldiers conscripted to fight for the Sudan People's Liberation Army in a series of civil wars that wracked his homeland starting in the mid-1980s. Jal presents a disturbing and visceral memoir of his tragic lost childhood, overflowing with nightmarish images of death, cruelty, horror, and violence. Jal survived attacks on his village, a long forced march to Ethiopia, a brutal indoctrination into soldierhood, close-combat battles, and a famine-plagued trek across a desert that few of his fellow travelers survived. 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. Focused firmly on his own personal experiences . . . similar in subject to Ishmael Beah's best-selling A Long Way Gone, Jal's moving memoir is recommended."—Ingrid Levin, Library Journal
18th Street Films presents War Child, a feature documentary film on Emmanuel Jal, former South Sudanese child soldier turned international hiphop sensation (ER, Blood Diamond, Live8).
Listen to this audiobook excerpt from Emmanuel Jal's memoir War Child: A Child Soldier's Story. In the mid-1980s, Emmanuel Jal was a seven-year-old Sudanese boy living in a small village. But then his mother was killed and his father Simon rose to become a powerful commander in the Christian Sudanese Liberation Army, fighting for the freedom of Sudan. Soon, Jal was conscripted into that army, one of 10,000 child soldiers, and fought through two separate civil wars over nearly a decade.