Saturday, July 13, 2013

There is a Country: New Fiction From the New Nation of South Sudan

Edited by Nyuol Lueth Tong

The idea of a new nation, as touted on the cover of this very slim anthology of fiction (and one poem), suggests a newness of place, and the heady days of nation-building that resonate with North American audiences, who themselves don't feel all that far removed from the frontier-ism that shaped their homes.  The truth of the matter is that South Sudan is a very old place, albeit only recently recognized as a place of its own.

The people of South Sudan, having survived war with the country they used to be a part of, are now a diasporic people.  Reading the author bios at the back of this anthology show a collection of writers (sadly all male) who have been educated in England and Europe, and who have or have not returned to their homelands.  A surprisingly large percentage of them are doctors.

The stories here are scattered, capturing different moments in the South Sudanese experience, from migrant camps in Port Sudan to refugee camps presumably in the country itself.  The characters have suffered loss and displacement, although these are not always the themes of the stories.  Instead, we read about a blossoming love in a camp, or about the slow poisoning of an old endearment when decimated families have to resort to relying on the charity of old acquaintances.

The only story that directly portrays the way between North and South does it from the perspective of a soldier from the other side, which I found to be very interesting, especially given its sympathy for the character.

These are all very well-written stories, coming from a place not really known for its literary traditions.  A bulk of good fiction is essential in building the character of a nation, and while it faces many challenges now and in its future, the canon of South Sudan is in capable hands.

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