THE GOOD BRAIDER by Terry Farish
This is a story written with the power of an elephant – yes, an elephant - her spare words open your heart to grace and beauty. This novel is written in verse and is set in South Sudan, Cairo, and then the Sudanese American Community in Portland, Maine.
Viola’s voice sings out the story of her escape from brutality, hunger, and even rape, with her mother and younger brother. Viola’s words are sparse. The images she creates are unforgettable. Viola’s story gives the reader a deep sense of what it means to leave behind home and family, memories and the familiar, and then to recreate one’s self and one’s life, as a refugee.
We share with Viola the confusion and hope experienced on the first day of school in a new country, Portland, Maine, wearing donated strange clothes and trying to speak in a clumsy new language:
On the first day of school,
Jackie and I climb the stone stairs and enter
A kingdom with globes of light above our heads
And painted tiles on the walls. I think I have
Gone to the Jesus heaven….
Mrs. Mejia is very old with hair too black for her age
And bright red lipstick…
“Study and you will be queen of the world,”
Being queen of the world, or a teenager in the U.S., soon becomes sharp conflict with being a respectful, obedient Sudanese daughter, especially when red-haired Andrew promises to teach Viola how to drive:
in Juba (their home in southern Sudan) a girl does not sit in a boy’s car,
in Juba a girl is punished for such behavior, perhaps her hand will be held in bubbling boiling water until her skin is cooked,
In Juba, a girl with a boiled hand cannot call 911.
But in Juba, at home, one can smell the Nile, and both Viola and her mother remember, that in Juba “the Nile is wide and warm and smells like carrots or clean fruit.”
Remembering the Nile takes
some of the sadness from her (mother’s] eyes.
“Did Habuba [grandmother] ever tell you,” I say,
“Who follows the elephant will have no problems?”
When I see a small smile come on her lips,
I know she had.
“In THE GOOD BRAIDER, Terry Farish creates a masterful triumph of character and story….” Naomi Shihab Nye
“Terry Farish seems to breathe the reader into the emotional spaces of war, exile, and refugee life….” Uma Krishnaswami, author of THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING
Marshall Cavendish, Amazon Children’s Publishing, 2012.