Sarah's Stars

Mariatu Kamara with Susan McClelland. The Bite of the Mango
Annick $12.95  ISBN 978-1-55451-158-7   216 pg.
Reviewed by Lindsey, Age 14

The road was lined with thick elephant grass, shrubs, and different kinds of fruit trees. That frightened me, for rebels could easily hide in these bushes. I looked deep into the man's eyes. "Please take me with you," I pleaded. "Please! I don't want to die."

He placed one hand tenderly on my cheek. With his other hand, he cupped my chin. "You will die if you come with me," he said in a soft voice. "I don't think you know how sick you are. But I do. Follow the road, and by midday you will find yourself in a village only a short distance from Port Loko. Someone there will take you the rest of the way, I am sure."

Before he left, the man wiped my face with a dirty blue rag.

"I'm scared," I whispered.

Mariatu is a young girl living in Sierra Leone with her scattered family. For the most part, everything is fine. She wrestles with her cousins, visits her family members, works and tries to avoid the creepy affections of her potential suitor, Salieu. Rebel attacks are fairly common and usually the village just evacuates, spends some time in a larger village waiting, and then when it is safe, their lives resume. But one fateful day, Mariatu has no choice but to ignore the ominous dream she had the night before and returns to her village, even though the area has not been declared safe yet. In an act of unspeakable horror, the rebels, hardly older than Mariatu herself, raid the village, shooting, terrifying all and before they leave, cut off the young girl's hands.

In pain, desperate, bleeding and hungry, Mariatu stumbles to the safety of a nearby village. From there she manages to meet up with her family in a hospital where her wounds are treated. But then she finds out that she is pregnant. Thinking back, the girl remembers when Salieu raped her. Finally, the baby Abdul is born and Mariatu lives with her family in a camp with other amputees. But then yet another tragedy strikes, in the form of the death of Abdul. Wracked with grief and guilt, Mariatu reluctantly joins a theatre troupe and slowly begins to heal. The journey Mariatu takes from her tiny village in Africa to London and then finally to Canada after facing the horrors of violence and war is nothing less than beautiful. Mariatu's story will sweep you up and clench you firmly in its grip until the very last page.

Most books of this nature, while still unflinchingly raw, can still seem a bit fuzzy, just because it is a work of fiction. But The Bite of the Mango is engaging and absorbing because the person who went through such terrible ordeals is narrating the story from memory, so that you feel as if you were right there when it was happening. And of course, like most memoirs, some parts have probably been exaggerated and some have been left out but the fact alone that Mariatu is a real person who lived it, making this book stand out from all the other novels about global issues.

Unfortunately because of the reality of many people living in Sierra Leone today, the book is very violent and not recommended for readers under the age of 12. It's not explicit and most certainly does not glorify gore, but it's still a very hefty topic and a serious one, too.

As far as the writing goes, I was most impressed. Mariatu has a gift of reliving her past nightmares and ending with a brilliant hope and strength. It may seem a little clichéd but still, Mariatu is a strong, beautiful woman who has a gift for storytelling. Considering the things she's gone through and the sadness she has faced, it is remarkable that she is now a thriving college student in Toronto. And even though English is not her first language, the writing is lucid and rhythmic and easy to read. The Bite of the Mango will inspire, teach and interest all who pick it up and I highly recommend it.

I give Mariatu Kamara's The Bite of the Mango five stars.


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