Don’t Look Back: A Memoir of War, Survival, and My Journey to America
Achut Deng and Keely Hutton
Farrar, Straus, & Giroux
About Don’t Look Back
In this propulsive memoir from Achut Deng and Keely Hutton, inspired by a harrowing New York Times article, Don’t Look Back tells a powerful story showing both the ugliness and the beauty of humanity, and the power of not giving up.
I want life.
After a deadly attack in South Sudan left six-year-old Achut Deng without a family, she lived in refugee camps for ten years, until a refugee relocation program gave her the opportunity to move to the United States. When asked why she should be given a chance to leave the camp, Achut simply told the I want life.
But the chance at starting a new life in a new country came with a different set of challenges. Some of them equally deadly. Taught by the strong women in her life not to look back, Achut kept moving forward, overcoming one obstacle after another, facing each day with hope and faith in her future. Yet, just as Achut began to think of the US as her home, a tie to her old life resurfaced, and for the first time, she had no choice but to remember her past.
As I read this book, I found myself thinking about the timeline of the author’s life. What was I likely doing while she fled for her life from soldiers intent on killing everyone in her village? How did I spend my time during the years she lived in the refugee camp in Kenya? It really made me think about how sheltered and safe my life has been and how far that is from the experience so many other people have in their childhoods and lives.
I think the authors did an excellent job describing a child’s view of the horrors of war and of the endless pressure of hunger and waiting during her life in the refugee camp. In the scene in which Achut hides in her closet, contemplating ending her life, the intensity of her hopelessness and feelings of being trapped were absolutely gripping.
All in all, it’s an excellent memoir that delivers a personal account of a child’s life during the war in Sudan, life in a refugee camp, and eventual immigration to the United States. Readers who enjoyed OVER A THOUSAND HILLS I WALK WITH YOU by Hanna Jensen or FINDING REFUGE by Victorya Krouse will want to read this powerful, true account.
Recommended for Ages 14 up.
Achut and her family are Sudanese. She and some of her family members live as refugees in a camp in Kenya for years before immigrating to the United States.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
References to women being assaulted by soldiers in villages and in the refugee camp. Later, an older boy sexually abuses Achut. Details are limited and focus on the horror and helplessness Achut feels.
Achut’s family have all been given Christian names, which they’re told to use. She never feels like her name, Rachel, suits her and prefers her family name, Achut, instead.
Soldiers fire guns at fleeing civilians, killing many. Soldiers fire rifles into people’s homes, killing some hiding there. In the refugee camp, Achut faces physical abuse by her guardians as well as starvation from rations being withheld. Diseases spread through the camp, killing many. Parasites infect Achut and others and must be pulled from wounds in their legs and feet. A poisonous snake bites a girl, causing her leg to swell painfully. Men who have been caught assaulting women are publicly punished by having their heads shaved roughly, so that they have deep cuts on their scalps. Officials rub salt into the wounds.
Achut’s cousin begins getting drunk to avoid his grief and anger. She worries this behavior will ultimately kill him.
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