Kamakwie was a very difficult book to read. I can only imagine how difficult it was for Kathleen Martin to write.
"When I went to Sierra Leone...I knew I would see things that would make me sad. And I knew...that I would also find happiness growing like determined wildflowers—seemingly oblivious to the troubles all around. But there was so much I did not know. I did not know the vast darkness of war. I did not know how vicious fate could be. I did not expect at times to feel as if I were imprisoned in a dream where, no matter how I shouted or waved my arms, I could not be heard or seen."
This book is clearly Martin's attempt to be heard and seen by the world outside of Sierra Leone, as she tells the story of the people of a country that has so long been held in the vise-like grip of poverty and war. It is not told so much for herself as for the people she met and connected with there, like Abu, a young boy enamored equally of learning and soccer. Like Sallay, who sees atrocities in the war that she has to share, and then later is able to laugh with her sons, showing the triumph of the human spirit over the ugliness of needless death and destruction. Martin writes of her,
"I can see, as she speaks, that story digging into her body, clawing into her skin, twisting through her veins on its way out."
I suspect that the story of the people of Kamakwie, and, indeed, of Sierra Leone, did the same for Martin. She accepted the challenge and created an extraordinary book. Kamakwie is a double-edged sword, eloquent both in language and in the spirit captured in the stunning photographs throughout the book.
Just as telling the story of her stay in Sierra Leone—spending time in hospitals and schools, getting to know mothers and babies, grandfathers and teachers—was a challenge for Martin to write, it is also a challenge for us, the readers. There are sections of the book that are very hard to read, hard to get our minds and hearts around. This was true for me, and I have lived in a third-world country for years, experienced war and seen first hand the effects of malnutrition and lack of medical care. Kamakwie is a glimpse into a world most will never experience. The book asks all of us to open our hearts and minds and to somehow, in some way, make a difference.
Read an excerpt from this book.
Kathleen Martin is a journalist and the author of several children's books about animals. She is an editor, book reviewer, and a voracious reader. She is also the executive director of the Canadian Sea Turtle Network. In 2007, she won the Gold Canadia Environment Award for Conservation. Kathleen lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with her husband, Mike, and their children, Aidan, Kate, and Kieran. Visit her website.
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