Book Review: The Translator


translatorDaoud Hari is a Zaghawa tribesman from Darfur who became a translator for journalists and the UN during the Darfur genocide. The book reads very easily, it’s essentially a transcript of Daoud talking about his experiences and his journey. This simple telling of the tale keeps it personal, light and exudes a warmth that helps deal with some absolutely shocking events.

Reading this book stood as an interesting counter to the recent debate about hell that I’d engaged in. I wonder what you reaction is as you read this account of a man telling Daoud what had happened to him (warning this is uncomfortable stuff):

‘Everybody ran away as fast as they could. My wife over there held our two-year old son tightly in her arms, and she ran one way through the bushes. Thank God she found a good way to go. I took my four-year old daughter, Amma, and we ran as fast as we could another way around the bushes. They caught me, the Janjaweed, and I let go of her hand and told her to run. But she didn’t keep running; she watched from bushes as they beat me and tied me to a tree with my arms back around it like this’ (making a hoop behind his back).

‘One of the Janjaweed men started to kill me in a painful way. My daughter could not bear to see this, so she ran towards me and called out, Abba, Abba.’ These words, which mean ‘Daddy, daddy,’ filled his throat with emotion, and he paused a long time.

‘The Janjaweed man who had tied me to the tree saw my daughter running to me. He lowered his rifle and he let her run into his bayonet. He gave it a big push. The blade went all the way through her stomach. She still cried out to me, ‘Abba! Abba!’ Then he lifted up his gun, with my daughter on it, with blood from her body pouring down all over him. He danced around with her in the air and shouted to his friends, ‘Look, see how fierce I am,’ and they chanted back to him, ‘Yes, yes, you are fierce, fierce, fierce!’ as they were killing other people. My daughter looked at me for help and stretched her arms in great pain toward me. She tried to say Abba but nothing came out.

‘It took a long time for her to die, her blood coming down so fresh and red on this – what was he? A man? A devil? He was painted red with my little girl’s blood and he was dancing. What was he?’

This man had seen evil and didn’t know what to do with the sight of it. He was looking for an answer to what it was, and why his little daughter deserved this. Then, after taking some time to cry without talking, he told me he no longer knew who he was.” (p82-82)

How did you react? Me, tears and real anger. In the context of the cross these events are staggering. That God’s grace extends to cover even this sin, that Jesus bore this sin, that his forgiveness could apply to this sin. But the cross also speaks of God’s judgement upon sin and for those that don’t receive the grace that flows from it, what will happen?

What would be an appropriate length of time of punishment for such an act? What extenuating factors should be considered? In the face of such evil I am glad that I am not the judge but I’m glad there is a judge. Such evil should not go unpunished or swept under the carpet.

However the question of hell is less bothersome when we think about the murderer than if we think about the victim. What will God do for this muslim father and little murdered muslim girl? I hope that in His judgement they get a fully just response. Just in terms of what they have done and just in terms of what has been done to them. I am again glad that I am not the judge.

All these theological ponderings aside, I was moved by the events in Darfur in a way, that to my shame, I was not moved at the time and listening to the voice of this gentle African both informed and sometimes instructed. I love this throwaway comment about the place of TV in our lives.

“If you live in a small town, you know a great deal about the families who live there. If your town had no television or other things to take you away from visiting all the time, your town could be very large and you would still know something about everyone. So it is like that.” (emphasis added)

The book contains many off hand insights from Africa into contemporary life and is just one of the reasons that this is a fascinating book. Simply put for first hand insight into the events that took place in Darfur start here.

For some of the horrors that still happen in the Sudan today, read this article from EPM

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