(Cover picture courtesy of Open Book Toronto.)
As a child in a small rural village in Sierra Leone, Mariatu Kamara lived peacefully surrounded by family and friends. Rumors of rebel attacks were no more than a distant worry.
But when 12-year-old Mariatu set out for a neighboring village, she never arrived. Heavily armed rebel soldiers, many no older than children themselves, attacked and tortured Mariatu. During this brutal act of senseless violence they cut off both her hands.
Stumbling through the countryside, Mariatu miraculously survived. The sweet taste of a mango, her first food after the attack, reaffirmed her desire to live, but the challenge of clutching the fruit in her bloodied arms reinforced the grim new reality that stood before her. With no parents or living adult to support her and living in a refugee camp, she turned to begging in the streets of Freetown.
In this gripping and heartbreaking true story, Mariatu shares with readers the details of the brutal attack, its aftermath and her eventual arrival in Toronto. There she began to pull together the pieces of her broken life with courage, astonishing resilience and hope.
Just how does one review a book like this? The Bite of the Mango is probably one of the hardest books to review that I’ve ever read, so please pardon the fact that I may be a little incoherent at times.
I can’t honestly find anything wrong with this book (other than the horrifying fact it’s true). Mariatu Kamara is a very brave young woman for telling her story with such brutal, unflinching honesty. Yes, I felt the style was a little too simplistic for my liking but that hardly had an effect on my reading experience. Sometimes simple is better and I think this was the case with The Bite of the Mango.
The one thing I would have liked more of was background about the civil war. I understand that Mariatu Kamara had essentially no knowledge of the war at the time, but it would have been nice to hear her thoughts on it as she told the story. I don’t mean that she should have gone off on a tangent, but maybe some reflections on the war with what she knows now would have been helpful.
Unfortunately, the civil war in Sierra Leone is not well known in the Western world, particularly for young people. The only reason I even knew of it before picking up this book was because I met a young woman my own age who had lived in a Liberian refugee camp around the same time. So yes, a little more background would have been nice. Was the whole narrative confusing without it? No and maybe it’s just my natural curiosity that would have liked more information.
Really, what else can I say? If you like memoirs, history or even just well-written nonfiction in general, I’d highly recommend The Bite of the Mango. You won’t regret picking it up.
I give this book 5/5 stars.