Tears of the Desert, Halima Bashir

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This was probably not the best book to read on the back of Dream of Ding Village which I reviewed here, but I couldn’t help myself! From the first page I was hooked and there was no turning back, despite the somewhat desperate and confronting subject matter.

This book is a memoir and it details Bashir’s youth in a rural village in Darfur. Bashir describes her childhood in idyllic terms, surrounded by devoted parents and a stern but loving grandmother. Despite the incredibly strong connection between Bashir and her mother, the book pays significant attention to the relationships between the women in this family, specifically between Bashir and her grandmother. The grandmother’s story is itself fascinating: when her husband secretly took a second wife, the grandmother decided to leave and in secret she took the children and vanished. Unfortunately, there was one child that her husband would not allow out of his mother’s sight and Grandmother went to great lengths to reunite her family, abducting the child and disappearing. I wanted to hear more about this woman and her fire and passion! Grandfather eventually finds his lost wife and the two develop a good friendship, although they never reunite!

The legacy which Bashir pays most attention to is her father’s liberal approach toward her position as a woman and the value of education. Bashir is clearly academically minded and her father sends her to the city to a school and then on to university. Bashir embraces her education and revels in the opportunity to better herself. Despite the obstacles which she faces – the discrimination and bullying at the hands of her Arab peers, her struggle to fit in and the strangeness of the city – she thrives in this new space. For me, it was this which raised one of the most interesting confessions in this memoir. At first, Bashir is overjoyed to finish her first term at school and return home. She describes falling back into the village lifestyle and her joy at seeing her friends, family and particularly her grandmother. However, when she returns to the village after her second stint at school she suddenly realises that she feels superior to the rest of the village, that she can no longer relate to them, their values and their beliefs. This leaves her torn and desperate to return to school and the environment to which she has become accustomed.

What was interesting for me was that Bashir so clearly enunciates the pitfalls of colonialism in this realisation and this stands in such distinct contrast to her sustained idyllic nostalgia. There is a taut balance between her desire to step into the West and the values it represents and her need to hold on to everything that her culture signifies to her.

Bashir’s journey is gripping and as I turned the book’s final pages I was desperate to know more about this incredible woman and all she accomplished. Unfortunately, my searches on the internet revealed only scant information! I would welcome a sequel to this fascinating story!!

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