Monday, September 29, 2008

The Devil Came on Horseback

The Devil Came on Horseback: Bearing Witness to the Genocide in Darfur
Brian Steidle
With Gretchen Steidle Wallace

Natasha has been hosting the Reading and Blogging for Darfur event at her blog this whole month. I wanted to actively read and watch a lot of videos this month but unfortunately couldn’t do as much as I wanted. Luckily, one of the books I had ordered got to me before the end of the month. So I sat down to read “The Devil Came on Horseback”. I had read Natasha’s review of this book over at her blog and that was one of the reasons I definitely wanted to read this one. And I am glad I did. Once again, thank you Natasha!
What is the best way to know more about everything happening in Darfur, you might wonder. Well, how about a book written by someone who was there, someone who interacted with both sides of the fight, someone who took pictures of everything happening there, someone who made notes of every incident he witnessed, etc etc?? You basically get what I am trying to say, right? There couldn’t be a better way to get to know about the happenings in Darfur than to read “The Devil Came on Horseback”.
Brain Steidle is a former United States Marine. He goes to Sudan for a year as an unarmed military observer for the African Union. His job was to go with his team and record the incidents he witnessed all over Sudan. After spending a relatively quiet few months in the Nuba Mountains, he requests a move to Darfur. His frustration at not being able to do anything to help better the situation in Darfur is obvious through the book. The helplessness he feels when he looks into the eyes of the poor villagers who think that he might just be able to help them is so palpable. But given his situation, Brian does the best he can in his own way. He records every incident, every conversation, every scene in the form of reports, photographs, letters to his sister Gretchen, audio notes, etc. And then, he wrote a book to convey the message to everyone else in the world. I think what he’s done is so commendable.
If you are expecting a dry, boring, documentary reporting mass killing, rape and other atrocities, you are soo wrong. The book is actually well written and very interesting. It is quite a page turner. Personally, I felt the first part of the book, before he goes to Darfur seemed kinda slow. But the minute he landed in Darfur, I couldn’t put the book down. I just had to read and read and read and grasp every word he had to say. Some of the things that he had to say, I already knew… Many other things shocked me. The images in the book were heart-wrenching and I would be lying if I said that the book hasn’t affected me.
The one thing that troubled me was his faith in the American Government. Throughout the book he keeps mentioning things to the effect that if the information actually got to the US government then they would immediately do something to better the situation in Darfur. Did he actually think the folks sitting here have no idea of what is happening in Darfur? Well, it is not just the US government. It is governments all over the world. Somehow, everyone has decided to ignore the happenings in Darfur. Atrocities committed against the tribes in Darfur are so inhuman and should never be permitted. It is disgusting how things like this are going on for years and years and no one seems to be doing anything about it!
It is hard to imagine that this book is actually a memoir- that events described here are not figments of imagination from a psychotically deranged brain. They are actual events appening in a different part of the world. People are starving, getting killed mercilessly, getting raped, being turned out of their homes right as I type this review. It is really hard to imagine that everything said in the book is true.
Brain’s job is to act as an unbiased recorder of the incidents he witnesses. But throughout the book, it is obvious that he has taken a side. I do not know if that is good or bad. I have no idea if the actual scenario is that clear cut. Is there actually a “good vs bad” situation in Darfur? I think that’s just not possible. I might be just naïve here. I have no idea about what I am talking. Is it THAT obvious that there is one side is right and one side is wrong? If the situation was that obvious, won’t something be done about it already?
On the whole, I would totally recommend this book to everyone. In fact, not just to people interested in knowing about what is happening in Darfur but to EVERYONE. I think it is important to be aware of things that are happening all around us.I know this has been made into a movie as well. So if are you not really a book person (Wait, then what are you doing in my blog??) then you should get yourself a copy of the dvd to watch!
Well, please feel free to leave your comments here. I would love to hear what you think about this. If you have also read this book, do send me a link to review and I’ll add it to this post.


Madeleine said...

If you are able to find it, watch the documentary. I haven't read the book yet, but definitely will.

Here is a movie and book I wish didn't have to be filmed and written ever. It is so difficult to understand how humans can hurt other humans in such a horrendous way :{

Thank-you for a great review

Dar said...

Very heartfelt review Ramya-it definitely grabs one's attention which is good. I will check out the documentary and see if maybe the library has the book. These are the types of horrible things that are happening that we keep saying shouldn't be. People need to be aware. Thanks for the great review Ramya.

Ramya said...

@madeleine - i am definitely going to try and watch the documentary. I totally know what you mean. It is almost unreal - the things that are happening out there.. feels like he's talking about another planet!

@dar - you have to read/watch this one dar.. i somehow personally prefer reading before watching..coz there's so much more words can say.. but yeah..let me know if you are able to get your hands on either on the documentary or the book!

bermudaonion said...

Thanks for the review. I read Tears of the Desert and couldn't put it down although I found it very painful to read.

Nymeth said...

What an amazing review, Ramya. This sounds like such an important book. I wanted to have read The Translator this month, but time just slipped away. It's never too late to become more informed, though, and both this and The Translator are on my must read list.

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

Watch the documentary!! It is so powerful! Just have some kleenex handy because it will make you cry! Great review Ramya! Thanks!

Ramya said...

@bermudaonion - everyone's reading "tears of the desert" ..i definitely want to read that now..:)

@nymeth - the translator's on my list as well.. need to get to it sometime!:)

@natasha - yeah.. i think i am going to watch the documentary now.. i like to read before i watch and i think i am ready for a few bucket-fulls of tears now:)

Trish said...

I don't think I've heard of this one but I'll definitely have to put it on the list. The only book I've read about Darfur is The Translator and it was a fascinating and heartbreaking book.

Ramya said...

@ trish - i think there are quite a few books about darfur suddenly in the market now.. this is one, then there's translator, and i heard that tears of the desert is also amazing.. they are all such heart-wrenching books that i am sure it is tough to read more than one at a time..