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The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur Paperback – 5 Jun 2008

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (5 Jun. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141037008
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141037004
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 715,363 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


The age of the African chronicler lives on in Daoud Hari's ground-level account of turmoil in Darfur. So much more than a history book, The Translator is a work of lyrical beauty, a moving elegy to the otherwise overlooked victims of a modern genocide (Tim Butcher, author of Blood River)

If you read nothing else about Africa this year read this book (Terry Waite)

About the Author

Daoud Hari was born in the Darfur region of Sudan. After escaping an attack on his village, he entered the refugee camps in Chad and began serving as a translator for the BBC, New York Times and other media, and for various NGOs. He now lives in the US, where he is a spokesperson for

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A. Chang on 28 May 2009
Format: Paperback
I understand the Darfur situation much more after reading Daoud Hari's account of his experiences. No amount of news or analysis from 'experts' could have brought me to the ground level, so to speak, as his book did. Feeling every bead of sweat, every sense of doom, and the suffering and desperation of the villagers. But it is also a story full of wisdom, wit, and ironic humour that moved very briskly and never became maudlin or hateful. That is the true magic of the book. It brought me to tears several times, then it brought me suddenly to laughter, then gently into the world of dreams and ancestors, of friendship, family and love, stretching across the unyielding desert, then the valleys and hills, and acacia trees, and it brought me to the restful village life, the custom of sitting down to tea to replenish the soul, friendly camels and devoted donkeys, and the little child waving. All this would break into episodes of horror and violence and barbarity that are the realities of Darfur. And just when I believe in nothing but human cruelty and despair, he turns the story and teases the imagination with tales of courage, hope, and survival. His dreams are particularly powerful and seductive (that is, when he is able to sleep!) as they awaken the spirits of loved ones recently departed, particularly his brothers, as if to say 'you are bigger than your suffering'. It's clear the politics in Darfur is a tangled web with rebels, and 'turncoat' rebels, and Chadian hospitality and complicity at the same time, and the dominion of evil and good shifting like the sands. The innocents are crushed in this mad conflict. When friends and brothers part and say 'see you again soon', it is a sly reference to heaven.Read more ›
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By DubaiReader VINE VOICE on 17 Jun. 2008
Format: Paperback
This is one of those mind-blowing books that should be read by everyone.

Daoud Hari has seen his village desecrated, many friends and relatives needlessly killed and his family exiled as refugees in neighbouring Chad, - all because the government of Sudan is turning Arab against native African to clear the land ready to develop it for oil.
These people were friends, they ate in each other's huts - and now they are killing one another, manipulated like characters in a computer game.
This scenario has been repeated hundreds, even thousands of times throughout the villages and towns of Darfur. Young lads are becoming rebels because they have nowhere else to go; the rebel armies replace their lost families and quench their thirst for revenge.

Daoud Hari uses his skills in languages and his many contacts, as his weapons in the fight against this genocide.
He travels into Darfur to escort journalists and NGO representatives. His mission is to show this devastation to the world, in the hope that we can do something to stop it. He has risked his life many times. Ultimately he had to leave and continue his fight in America, where he now tours with on the 'Voices from Darfour' tour.

Read this book - pass it around - speak out.
This genocide needs to be stopped - NOW.
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Format: Paperback
Occasionally shocking, but riveting and highly readable personal account of the scandal called Darfur by Daoud, member of the Zaghawa, an ethnic group straddling the border between Sudan and Chad. It is (mostly) a chronological account of what happened to them and himself between 2003 and late 2005. Daoud, working from Chad, quickly establishes himself as a resourceful and reliable translator for newsmen and human rights researchers in Chad’s refugee camps or for forays into Darfur. His sixth trip, with a reporter from "National Geographic" is the beginning of the end of Daoud ever working in Chad or Sudan again.
Daoud has an engaging, inclusive writing style, sometimes laconic, sometimes invoking his faith or the international community , to undo or correct the gross injustice and unspeakable cruelties. He also turns briefly to his readers in many chapters with rhetorical questions or explanations. And the way he describes his Zaghawa people, its five sultanates is quite engaging. In the rest of Darfur and Chad they are seen as smarter than good for them, better planners, risk spreaders, networkers and businessmen. Readers will soon notice his mentioning his many cousins and nieces in London, Cairo, Ndjamena, etc: the Zaghawa diaspora. Will they remain united when attacked from the air and ethnically cleansed on the ground by Sudan’s military and Darfur Arabs’ Janjaweed killers and looters?
This reader has spent some 18 very pleasant months in Darfur when it was peaceful and bustling with trade, ethnic diversity and optimism. That world is gone, most probably and regrettably, forever.
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Format: Paperback
Daoud 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.

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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 72 reviews
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
The Translator 18 Mar. 2008
By Stephen Balbach - Published on
Format: Hardcover
There are a number of compelling memoirs by Sudanese authors such as They Poured Fire On Us From The Sky (2005), What Is the What (2006), and at least 4 more by or about "The Lost Boys" of southern Sudan. As the conflict has moved north and west, like birds flying before the storm, we are now seeing a new wave of heartbreaking memoirs arriving from the Darfur region. Each story is as unique as the person telling it, and all offer a glimpse into a world few know about because western journalists have so much difficulty working in the country, thus making this first-hand narrative by a native Darfurian a unique and important source.

As a young man Daoud Hari witnessed the destruction of his idyllic rural village by modern Russian-made helicopter gunships and, like the logs of a raft breaking apart in the rapids, he and his family spun off in many harrowing directions. Hari decided early on that he would "use his brains and not a gun to make a better life" for himself. After arriving at a refugee camp in Chad, his skill at languages allowed him to work as a translator and guide for westerners on fact-finding trips across the border into Darfur. On about his 7th trip in August 2006 he became embroiled in an international incident with kidnapped National Geographic journalist Paul Salopek, making headlines around the world. Through the help of friends Hari was able to get out of Sudanese jail and move to the United States, where he now works for SaveDarfur.Org

Hari's easy to read book is an excellent entry point for learning about the Darfur conflict. A nine-page Appendix called "A Darfur Primer" is, the author says, what any Darfurian in a bar would know about their own history. Hari's book contains the most complete version yet of Pulitzer-Prize winning Paul Salopek's 2006 harrowing kidnapping ordeal, taking up nearly the last third of the book; Salopek has not yet published an account, he was severely beaten and almost died (a fate nearly shared by Hari). Hari tells us about the unintended consequences of the Iraq War, saying "Torture was the popular new thing because Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib were everywhere in the news at that time, and crazy men like this were now getting permission to be crazy." Finally, Hari is perhaps most remarkable for never loosing his humanity despite the horror around him, reminding the reader "loosing a baby is hard. It doesn't matter where in the world you live for that." This is a wonderful memoir, intelligent, thrilling, educational, recommend highly.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Simple... powerful.. life changing... 24 April 2008
By Tom Carpenter - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I was hesitant to purchase this book because the writing seemed very simple as I skimmed the book in the bookstore; however, it is this simple prose that empowers the journey you take with the author. From the opening story of his life being saved by a Journalist to the closing account of the torture and eventual freedom granted to him (don't worry, this doesn't reveal a surprise ending - after all, he did write the book), you feel that you are being told a story in the simple traditional form of an African tribal legend. Sadly, this is no legend!

When I read about the little girl killed by a soldier in a horrific way, I wept. When I read Daoud's commentary on why Darfur marriages last so long (they sleep separately), I laughed. What struck me was how much this man and his family has suffered and, yet, he laughs. He can teach us much about suffering and the ability to continue to believe and hope.

The more important part of the stories, however, is the part that should make us scream for change in the way we have dealt with this genocide and others like it. It's time to take faster action. When we have to wait until there are over 1000 stories to be heard (in order to decide if it is genocide), there's something VERY wrong with our process.

The author makes you feel like you've walked the sandy world in which he grew up. You feel as if you've ridden a camel, pushed a Land Rover out of a ditch, survived a beating and crossed borders illegally for the sake of human life. Why? Because he tells the story in very simple English, which makes you feel your hearing about it all from a child's mind. You connect with the story much as a child envisions she is in a traditional fairy tale. Very powerful!

The author ended his story by saying that he didn't think he stood a one percent chance of being saved from rearrest and possibly being traded back to the government of Sudan, which would likely kill him. Then he said of those odds, "for me, that was pretty good." Indeed, he was able to escape to work outside of the country and, among other things, write this book. I think we have to ask ourselves this: Are we going to give better odds to the people of Darfur and other such nations or are we only going to look at "past" holocausts like World War II and give the lip service "never again"?

Yes. This book has changed me.

I cannot recommend this book to you enough.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A nicely done personal history of a large, sad tale 2 Jun. 2008
By DWD's Reviews - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Unfortunately, the only thing that 99.999% of the world associates with the word "Darfur" is death, hate and tragedy. Daoud Hari's small memoir reminds the reader that Darfur was once home to millions - a place of family, friend, play and work.

That is the strongest asset of this short work - it puts a human face on a large tragedy. Written in simple, elegant English and with a wry sense of humor ("Most people like me, are tall - I am six feet - and are also a little thin because of all the walking, the hard work and the dieting that is one of the many advantages of poverty."[p. 108]), this book is an extension of Hari's way of fighting back against the forces that are destroying Darfur. Rather than taking up arms, Hari decided to expose Darfur to the world by escorting journalists from Chad into Darfur in Sudan.

This was not a choice for the faint of heart. Journalists and their guides were considered to be spies by the government of Sudan. Hari and his journalists were exposed to gunfire, captured multiple times and eventually one group was captured, tortured and eventually released through the efforts of former presidential candidate and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

Before reading the book, I suggest reading "Appendix 1: A Darfur Primer" at the end of the text. It helps give his story some context.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A Remarkable Book! A Remarkable Man! 25 Mar. 2008
By B. Case - Published on
Format: Hardcover
In the modern Western world, vivid documentary photojournalism plays an important role in how we world learn about major world events. However, when the story is genocide, the visual record can be so horrific that most people instinctually flinch and turn away, unable to bear the sight of so much human suffering. Croatia, Rwanda, Darfur--we are bombarded by harrowing nightmarish images.

It is easy to see why most people might not want to read a book about genocide. But they fail to realize that books work on the brain in an entirely different manner than images. A well-conceived book can promote understanding and provoke action. Take "The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur" by Daoud Hari as an example. Readers would be making a grave mistake if they turned away from this powerful and unforgettable memoir. This book is more than a recounting of genocide. It is a fierce story of heroism and survival--it is also a loving lament to a culture and people on the brink of extinction.

This book is definitely not what you might expect. There are no indictments against the international community's indifference. There is no anger--no blame. Instead, there is a calm heartfelt recounting of three years in the life of one tribesman working as a translator for Western journalist covering the story of war-torn Darfur. The years covered are 2003 through 2006. During this period, the author took immense risks to lead first a team of UN genocide investigators, and then six separate teams of Western journalists into dangerous war-torn Darfur. That he has come out of these ordeals alive is a miracle.

Daoud Hari tells an incredible story! For the last one-third of the book, I found myself gripping the book, unable to tear myself away before knew what happened. Compelling is a word that hardly does this book justice!

Although most of the book deals with the three years that he served as a translator, the author also tells us briefly about his early childhood. These are fascinating tales that bring to life the ancient and vibrant culture of Darfur's peoples.

As a young boy, Hari demonstrated a gift for languages. He was proficient in Arabic as well as his native Zaghawa language, but he also learned English. He learned it so well that could easily lose himself in the English classics--books like Brontë's "Jane Eyre," Stevenson's "Treasure Island," Dickens' "Oliver Twist," Orwell's "Animal Farm," and Paton's "Cry the Beloved Country." His father wanted him to become a camel herder, but Daoud had a head full of dreams. He took off for Libya and found work as a restaurant worker in rich hotels serving international tourists. Later, he tried to smuggle himself across the border into Israel to get a better paying job, but ended up first in an Israeli jail, and then later transferred to an Egyptian jail. Eventually, he was freed to return back to Darfur. He arrived home in 2003, a day before his village was savagely attacked. First, came the Sudanese government helicopters raining down bombs and machinegun fire. After a short interval, this was followed by the "Janjaweed" ground troops intent on killing and destroying everything in their path. His village fought back and many were killed and maimed. Fortunately, the author escaped with most of his family to a refugee camp in neighboring Chad. It is there where western journalist discovered his translating talents.

Working with the UN genocide investigators and journalist, Hari met face to face with countless victims. He hears their stories and tells many of them again in the pages of this book. The scenes of massacre are related with exquisite sensitivity and maturity. Yes, there are descriptions of unspeakable atrocities. But this book is also brimming with humanity--stories of strong family ties, devotion, and love. Overwhelmingly, it is the goodness of man that shines through this horrifying true-life tale.

Don't miss this remarkable book. It will leave you with a better understanding for the nature of genocide and for the complexity of the ongoing situation in Darfur. Most of all, it will stir you to action...after all, that is surely the author's intent--the author must still feel he is fighting the battle for his people, and he is doing it with the one tool he knows best: his extraordinary gift for language.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Saving Darfur 18 Mar. 2008
By Kelly Garbato - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Daoud Hari was born to the Zaghawa tribe in Darfur, the westernmost region of Sudan. At the age of 13, Daoud's father sent him to live in the city of El Fasher, located in North Darfur, to further his education - and distance his youngest son from the Sudanese military raids that were just beginning to foment the genocide in Darfur. Upon completion of his studies, Daoud traveled to Libya in search of work, and then on to Egypt and Israel. Daoud was apprehended while trying to cross the Gaza Strip in to Israel, and because he was deemed an "illegal immigrant" (his visa only allowed him to enter Libya), he was sent back to Egypt. There he was imprisoned as he awaited deportation back to his native country of Sudan - where he would surely be executed for his supposed "defection." Incredibly, a kind Egyptian jailer contacted Daoud's friends in Cairo, who in turn reached out to the United Nations and Human Rights Watch. Daoud was eventually freed and allowed to "sneak back" into Sudan through Chad.

This is only the beginning of Daoud's amazing and inspiring story, however. During his time spent "seeing the world," the conflict in Darfur erupted in government-sponsored genocide. Daoud's homecoming quickly turned into a rescue mission: as soon as he reached his village, he and his family were forced to evacuate as the Sudanese military and the government-backed militia groups called the Janjaweed tore through Darfur, bombing villages, battling rebel groups, raping and kidnapping women and children, and massacring members of the Fur, Zaghawa, and Massaleit ethnic groups. Luckily, Daoud did not become one of the estimated 200,000 to 400,000 to die at the hands of the Sudanese Army, but he does represent the more than 2.5 million persons displaced by the conflict.

After finding safety in neighboring Chad, Daoud volunteered to serve as a translator for non-governmental organizations and journalists. While some of his childhood friends chose to take up arms against the Sudanese government, Daoud's education afforded him a unique opportunity to advocate for his people by assisting in the distribution of aid and spreading word of the atrocities unfolding in his native lands. THE TRANSLATOR: A TRIBESMAN'S MEMOIR OF DARFUR is the story of Daoud's risky work as a translator: sneaking across the Chadian border into Sudan (and back again), cultivating relationships with rebels and militia groups, navigating the shifting alliances and, above all else, trying to guide his employers safely through their travels so that they might bring awareness to the plight of millions of Sudanese refugees through their reporting.

Curiously, Daoud's account of his journey back into Sudan from Chad in order to find and flee with his family has a strangely detached feel to it. I can't help but compare it to Ayaan Hirsi Ali's INFIDEL, which I recently finished. Born in Somalia and raised in Ethiopia and Kenya, Hirsi Ali eventually settled in the Netherlands and, later, the United States. While she was living in Kenya, a civil war broke out in Somalia, and many of Hirsi Ali's clan members unsuccessfully sought refuge in neighboring countries. At one point, she volunteered to travel to Somalia with a friend of her brother, who wanted to find his wife and children and smuggle them across the Kenyan border to safety. In contrast to Daoud's journey, Hirsi Ali's account is filled with danger and suspense. Perhaps this difference is because Hirsi Ali's situation was more precarious; she and her companions, of which there were many, had to bribe their way into Kenya, which was not accepting Somali refugees. In contrast, Chad has opened its borders (however grudgingly) to Sudanese peoples displaced by the conflict. Either way, and without revealing too much of the THE TRANSLATOR's story, I found Daoud's subsequent forays into Sudan to be increasingly tense and gut-wrenching. His last mission, the climax of the book, is truly amazing.

While Daoud's life certainly is extraordinary, the true message of THE TRANSLATOR is in how ordinary Daoud is. After all, Daoud is just one of three million plus Sudanese tribespeople to be killed or displaced by the genocide in Darfur. These three million people are fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, grandparents, grandchildren, cousins, friends and kin. They are three million individuals with unique life stories - and a shared fate. Every few weeks, you might read about "them" in the paper, or see a brief segment about the war on your local 6 o'clock newscast. "Them." "The Other." It's simply too easy to think of "them" as a mass, a crowd, a faceless throng suffering a world away. What Daoud has done in THE TRANSLATOR is give these refugees names, stories, lives. THE TRANSLATOR bears witness to their unquantifiable suffering, and entreats you, the reader, to care about their stories, and act on their behalf.
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