An epic quest for survival

2010-11-06 16:14

When Aher Arop Bol’s debut publication, The Lost Boy, first went into print last year, it made waves in the ­literary world that have resulted in international acclaim and a host of bids for film rights, and for the book to be translated into other languages.

To date it is being ­translated into German, Italian, Spanish and Catalan.

Aher Arop Bol was born in a ­Dinka village in Bahr el Ghazal, ­Sudan, in 1983.

He grew up in various refugee camps, after an attack during the southern Sudanese Civil War separated him from his parents at the age of four. Displaced, Bol took refuge in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

With a love for words and learning, he initially learnt how to read and write from carving letters in the dust. At the age of 17, Bol began writing his debut memoir, The Lost Boy, an epic quest for ­survival, education, family and meaning which has, since its ­publication last year, received ­international ­acclaim.

In The Lost Boy, Bol takes the reader with him as he, a child, flees war, and fights for survival with other ‘lost boys’ or jijamers – “those who break the bush”.

By the time he was 18 he had journeyed across more than 6?437km , crossing no less than eight African ­borders without a passport – a boy relying on his wits and on the ­kindness of strangers he met along the way.

The book later accounts how Bol’s odyssey culminates in him returning to his home village in 2003 and being unexpectedly ­reunited with his parents.

Reading the book requires a ­degree of personal forbearance.

This is something akin to white- ­water rafting.

One simply has to ‘let go’ as one accompanies the ­author, in the person of the young child he was, through the scenes of untold horror, suffering and ­deprivation he describes, simply as part of the life he has known, ­telling of the reality of mass starvation, and personal hazards of all kinds on his personal odyssey as he heads southwards through ­Africa.

The wonder of it all, I felt when interviewing him after reading his book, is that Bol has emerged from such a horrendous life, so strong, seemingly undamaged, determined to prevent similar atrocities happening to other children.

Bol is currently based in South Africa and studying for his final year LLB degree credits at Unisa.

He runs a spaza shop in Pretoria, the income from which goes ­towards his university fees and to the support of his two younger brothers in Uganda.

» The Lost Boy is published in South Africa by Kwela Books

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