When Elephants Fight is a compelling novel by Sudanese-Australian Majok Tulba and confrontingly told from a child’s voice. The story starts with young Juba, who lives a traditional village life in South Sudan, but the threat of the civil war is always close. Juba’s father died, killed by government forces many years ago and his brother Deng went missing, so Juba thinks Deng joined the rebels to avenge their father’s death.
Juba’s simple but joyous life in the village has continued on with family, school and friends providing a rich source of love and entertainment. Until one night, with no warning, their village is bombed and brutally attacked. Death and destruction tears Juba from his family as there is no option but to escape and run as fast as he can. He cannot go back. So Juba sets out walking on a long trek fraught with danger to find the safety of a refugee camp and to hopefully be reunited with what remains of his family. Through the pain and trauma Juba has hope, pride and reminds himself constantly that you must still know how to be happy.
I found this book deeply moving from the opening page. Although it is not an autobiography it reads with the authenticity of lived experience. The clarity of Juba’s voice brings vivid life to the beautifully detailed characters in the South Sudanese village landscape, before moving to the dusty, desperate refugee camp. The writing is direct and moves at a steady pace, with observations and emotions frankly describing the tense situations with a realism that shocks.
I was often overwhelmed by Juba’s occasional moments of intense joy whilst living in total deprivation. I also unexpectedly learned some of the ways in which war creates impossible choices for people and families, but they must make to survive.
This a good read for those who enjoy the richness of ‘real life’ stories, particularly those featuring personal endurance, determination, and the resilience of the human spirit through suffering. I highly recommended this for those seeking to understand more about the refugee experience. An incredible testimony of hope in a harrowing yet inspirational personal refugee story.