Ten Books to Help Understand the Conflicts in South Sudan and Ethiopia

Caroline Kurtz Recommends Maaza Mengiste, Asfa-Wossen Asserate, Dinaw Mengestu, and More – By Caroline Kurtz

The first home I remember well sat on the edge of a remote escarpment in mountainous Ethiopia. Ethiopians there accepted me, bemused and curious about my strange hair that had been bleached by the tropical highland sun. When I returned to the US, I spoke as a native, but I shared almost no cultural experiences with my peers—another kind of stranger.

As I began writing about my two worlds, early readers virtually clapped their hands over their ears at passages of history—“You sound like my fifth-grade social studies teacher!” Later in the process, when they thanked me for opening Ethiopia and South Sudan to them, I felt my worlds integrate. My first memoir, A Road Called Down on Both Sides: Growing up in Ethiopia and America, weaves my story—of living in almost in the same house, during four of Ethiopia’s revolutions—with the story of Ethiopia, as they are woven in my heart. I later spent four years in Nairobi, traveling in and out of civil war-torn South Sudan for women’s development and peace work. In my second memoir, Today is Tomorrow, I tell that story.

Stories like those in this list are not easy to read; but they allow the global family to understand the suffering, the heroism, and the hope buried deep in the hearts of people born to two troubled lands. History, swallowed neat, can taste bitter, while story—which recognizes the emotional experience of events—sweetens what would otherwise be indigestible. And the best writers of history find the story, find the universality, find the humans, and recount history in such a way that we can taste it.

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