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Slave

By Mende Nazer and Damien Lewis

Slave book coverMende Nazer's happy childhood in the remote Nuba Mountains of Sudan was cruelly cut short when raiders on horseback swept into her village. The Mujahidin hacked down terrified villagers, raped the women and abducted the children. Twelve-year-old Mende was one of them. Sold to an Arab woman in Khartoum, Mende was kept as a domestic slave, without any pay or a single day off. Her food was leftover scraps, and her bed was the floor of the garden shed. She endured this harsh and lonely existence for seven long years and was then passed on by her master to a relative in London. Eventually Mende managed to make contact with other Nuba exiles who, with British journalist and filmmaker Damien Lewis, helped her escape to freedom.

Media & Press

“Nazer provides beautiful and at times heart-wrenching accounts of the Nuba’s traditions…an important reminder of the real, lived terrors of thousands of black southern Sudanese whose stories will never be told, and whose freedom may never be won.”
The Washington Post

“Harrowing...[Nazer] describes being sold into servitude...a fate shared by more than 11,000 people each year in Sudan alone."
People Magazine

“[Nazer] dwells on her Nuba childhood with a childlike quality…Ultimately [she] celebrates…rebellion against injustice and the triumph of the human spirit.”
The Economist

“A clear, compelling, first-person narrative that conveys [Mende’s] young voice with powerful authenticity… the details are unforgettable, capturing both the innocence of the child and the world-weariness of one who has endured the worst.”
Booklist

“Few [memoirs] are as starkly powerful as this one: Nazer tells her story with lucid simplicity, deftly evoking her earlier self to convey that girl’s innocence, violent loss, and compromise with survival.”
The Onion

“Ultimately, Slave is the compelling memoir of one woman's struggle to hang on to her humanity and of her continuing fight to stop others from losing theirs.”
The Kansas City Star

“Mende Nazer’s spirit echoes that of Sojourner Truth’s during her journey from slave to freedom fighter… told in a childlike voice that conveys innocence and honesty.”
Orlando Sentinel

“[Nazer] tells her story of individual dignity combined with uncommon courage.”
The Denver Post

"Told with clarity and dignity... Surprisingly, a book about such a horrible subject is uplifting: Slave is an inspiring testimonial to one young woman's remarkable courage and unbreakable spirit."
The Roanoke Times

“A shocking, true story of contemporary slavery… [Mende Nazer’s] eventual and incredible journey into freedom is told simply and with grace even under the circumstances.”
Knoxville News-Sentinel

“By telling her story, Mende has managed to shed much needed light to the plight of the rest of our African sisters and throughout it all, her strength and beauty never fade.”
— Waris Dirie, author of Desert Flower

“An eye-opening account of the atrocities that can and do happen when one nationality believes it is superior to another, and an unforgettable plea for all people of all nations to focus on the importance of human rights and to understand that we are all equal, all part of one human race, and therefore should all be treated equally.”
— Norma Khouri, author of Honor Lost: Love and Death in Modern-Day Jordan

"Slave constitutes an act of tremendous courage. A solitary and profoundly moving voice emerging from the most silenced of quarters."
— Monica Ali, author of Brick Lane

“A straightforward, harrowing memoir that’s a sobering reminder that slavery still needs to be stamped out…a profound meditation on the human ability to survive under virtually any circumstances.”
Publishers Weekly

“The shockingly grim story of how the author became a slave at the end of the 20th century—mercifully, it has an ending to lift the spirit…Revelatory in the truest sense of the word: told with a child-pure candor that comes like a bucket of cold water in the lap.”
Kirkus Reviews

"As you read about Nazer's enslavement and her eventual run to freedom in September 2000, you will weep, rage, and shout for justice. I couldn't put it down."
— Libby Manthey, Riverwalk Books Limited, Chelan, WA

"[celebrates]...rebellion against injustice and the triumph of the human spirit."
- The Economist, February 19, 2004

"Born into the Karko tribe in the Nuba mountains of northern Sudan, Nazer has written a straightforward, harrowing memoir that's a sobering reminder that slavery still needs to be stamped out. The first, substantial section of the book concentrates on Nazer's idyllic childhood, made all the more poignant for the misery readers know is to come. Nazer is presented as intelligent and headstrong, and her people as peaceful, generous and kind. In 1994, around age 12 (the Nuba do not keep birth records), Nazer was snatched by Arab raiders, raped and shipped to the nation's capital, Khartoum, where she was installed as a maid for a wealthy suburban family. (For readers expecting her fate to include a grimy factory or barren field, the domesticity of her prison comes as a shock.) To Nazer, the modern landscape of Khartoum could not possibly have been more alien; after all, she had never seen even a spoon, a mirror or a sink, much less a telephone or television set. Nazer's urbane tormentors-mostly the pampered housewife-beat her frequently and dehumanized her in dozens of ways. They were affluent, petty and calculatedly cruel, all in the name of "keeping up appearances." The contrast between Nazer's pleasant but "primitive" early life and the horrors she experienced in Khartoum could hardly be more stark; it's an object lesson in the sometimes dehumanizing power of progress and creature comforts. After seven years, Nazer was sent to work in the U.K., where she contacted other Sudanese and eventually escaped to freedom. Her book is a profound meditation on the human ability to survive virtually any circumstances."
- Publishers Weekly

"The shock of this title is that it refers to what is happening right now, in Sudan, Africa, and also in the West. Ten years ago, when Mende Nazer was about 12 years old, she was captured in an Arab raid on her remote Nuba village, and, with about 30 other black Muslim children, she was sold into slavery. For eight years, she toiled as a domestic worker for a wealthy family in Khartoum, beaten and abused by her vicious owners, who then sent her to work for a relative in London, an important Sudanese diplomat. With only broken English and no friends, she remained locked up and isolated until finally she managed to escape and tell her story. And it doesn't end there: the U.K. refused her asylum ("Slavery is not persecution"). Now in 2003, the British government has given in to the global pressure of human-rights groups and allowed her to stay. Journalist Lewis helped her escape, and he spent months interviewing her. He tells her story in a clear, compelling, first-person narrative that conveys her young voice with powerful authenticity. Her memories of childhood in her Nuba village are idyllic (except for her brutal circumcision, described in graphic detail). But the core of the book is her daily labor and abuse as a house slave. The details are unforgettable, capturing both the innocence of the child and the world-weariness of one who has endured the worst."
- Booklist Hazel Rochman

KLIATT, July 2005
"A story of the triumph of the human spirit against oppressing odds."

Excerpt

The day that changed my life forever started with a beautiful dawn. I greeted the sunrise by facing east and making the first of my five daily prayers to Allah. It was the spring of 1994, at the end of the dry season. I was about twelve years old. After prayers, I got ready to go to school. It would take me an hour to walk there and an hour back again. I was studying hard because I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up.

This was a big dream for a simple, African girl like me. I come from the Nuba tribe, in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, one of the remotest places on earth. I lived in a village of mud huts with grass-thatch roofs, nestling in a fold in the big hills. My tribe are all hunters and farmers and most of them are Muslims. My father had a herd of fifty cattle, which meant that he wasn't a rich man, but he wasn't poor either.

After a day's hard study at school, I came home and did my chores. Then my mother cooked the evening meal. My father had been out in the fields getting the harvest in and my brothers had been helping him, so they were all very hungry. When we had finished eating, we went out into the yard to listen to my father's stories. I remember sitting around the fire in the yard laughing and laughing. He was a very funny man, my father, a real joker. I loved all my family dearly.

It was a cold night so we did not stay out for long. I went to bed as I always did, cuddling up to my father. There was a fire burning in the middle of the hut to keep us warm all night long. My little cat Uran curled up on my tummy. My mother lay on her bed, across the fire from us. Soon, we were all fast asleep. But we hadn't been sleeping long when, suddenly, there was a terrible commotion outside. I woke up, startled, to see an eerie, orange light playing over the inside of the hut.

"Ook tom gua!," my father shouted, jumping up. "Fire! Fire in the village!"

We ran to the doorway to see flames reaching skywards towards the far end of the village. At first, we thought that someone must have accidentally set their hut alight. It did happen quite often in our village. But then, we caught sight of people running amongst the huts with flaming torches in their hands. I saw them throwing these firebrands onto hut roofs, which burst into flames. The people inside came running out, but they were attacked by these men and dragged to the ground.

"Mujahadeen!," my father yelled. "Arab raiders! The Mujahadeen are in the village!"

I still didn't really understand what was happening and I was frozen with fear. Then my father grabbed me by the arm.

"Go lore okone!? Go lore okone?!," he shouted, "Where can we run? Where can we run?."

He was desperately trying to see a way to escape. I could feel my mother standing close to me, trembling. I was terrified. I had my cat Uran clutched in one arm and my father's hand in the other. Then we started to run.

"Run to the hills," my father shouted. "Follow me! Run! Run!"

We ran through scenes from your worst nightmare - my father leading, me following and my mother right behind us. I still held my cat in one arm. There were so many huts on fire, the whole night sky was lit up with the flames. Women and children were running in all directions, crying and screaming in confusion and terror. I saw the raiders grab hold of children and pull them out of their parent's arms.

"If anyone tries to grab you, hold onto me for dear life, Mende!," my father yelled.

I saw the raiders cutting peoples' throats, their curved daggers glinting in the firelight. I cannot describe to you all the scenes I saw as we ran through the village. No one should ever have to witness the things I saw that night.

Through the smoke and the flames I realised that my father was heading for the nearest mountain. But, as we approached the cover of the forest and the hills, we suddenly noticed a ragged line of raiders on horseback, right in front of us. They had wild, staring eyes, long scraggy beards and they wore ripped, dirty clothes. They brandished their swords at us. They looked completely different from the men in our tribe. They had blocked the only obvious escape route. I could see terrified villagers running ahead of us towards their trap. As they caught sight of the ambush, they started screaming and turned back, trying to find some other way to escape. There was complete chaos and terror, amidst the sound of gunfire.

As we turned to run in the opposite direction, I heard my father shouting desperately for my mother. In all the panic and the confusion, we had lost her. Now I was alone with my father, running, running. I could feel him trying to urge me to run faster, faster. But then I tripped and fell to the ground. I remember my cat jumping out of my arms. Then, as I struggled to get up, one of the Mujahadeen grabbed me and started to drag me away.

My father jumped on him and wrestled him to the ground. I saw my father beating the raider around the head, and he went down and didn't get up again. My father grabbed me by my arms and started to pull me away from the fighting. My legs felt as if they were being torn to pieces by the sharp stones as he dragged me away. But I didn't care about the pain. And then he hauled me to my feet again and we were running, running, running.

"Run, Mende! Run! As fast as you can!," my father shouted at me. "If the Arabs try to take you, they'll have to kill me first!"

We sprinted back towards the other end of the village. But I was tired now, really tired. I was getting weaker by the minute. Then, quite suddenly, a big herd of cattle fleeing from the fire cannoned into us, and I went down a second time. I felt hooves pounding over me, as I lay curled into a ball on the ground. I really thought that I was going to die.

From a distance, I heard my fathers' voice crying out, "Mende agor! Mende agor!" - Where are you, Mende! Where are you! His voice sounded like it was breaking with grief. I tried to shout back and make him hear me, but my throat was choked with pain and dust. My voice came out as a rasping whisper. "Ba! Ba! Ba!," I croaked - "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!"

But my father couldn't hear me. As I lay there, petrified, with tears streaming down my face, trying to shout for my father, a man seized me from behind. As he pinned me down, with his stubbly beard pricking the back of my neck, I could smell the ugly stench of his breath.

I knew that my father was somewhere nearby, searching desperately for me. I kept trying to shout for him. But the man clamped his grubby hand over my mouth. "Shut up," he hissed, in Arabic. "Shut up and lie still. If you keep shouting, the other men will find you and they will kill you."

He dragged me to my feet and started to march me through the village. By the light of the burning huts, I could see that he had a curved dagger and a pistol tucked into a belt at his waist.

As I was led away, I'm sure I heard my father still shouting for me, "Mende! Mende! Mende!" My father was the bravest man in the world. I knew that he would have tried to save me if only he could find me, even if he had to fight every Mujahadeen in the village. I wanted to shout out; "Ba! Ba! I'm here! I can hear you". But the raider kept his hand clamped over my mouth.

As we walked, I could see the village burning and I could hear screams all around me. I saw Nuba women on the ground with Mujahadeen on top of them, pawing at their bodies. I could smell the stench of burning, of blood and of terror.

As I was marched away, I prayed to God; "Oh Allah, Oh Allah, please save me, please save me." And I prayed to God to save my family too. Over and over as I was taken away to the forest, I kept praying to God that we might all be saved.

Leaving the burning village behind us, we arrived at the edge of the forest. Beneath the trees there were about thirty other children huddled together. More Mujahadeen kept arriving, bringing young Nuba boys and girls with them. The raiders' clothes and knives were covered in blood and they had the look of absolute evil about them. As they arrived, I heard them chanting at the tops of their voices; "Allahu Akhbar! Allahu Akhbar!" Allahu Akhbar!" - God is Great! God is Great! God is Great!

I had no idea if any of my family had escaped, or if they had all been killed in the raid. I had no idea what would happen to me now. This is how my wonderful, happy childhood ended and how my life as a slave began.