Given the current global refugee crisis, it is more important than ever that we hear stories of people who have been forced to leave their homes, and YA novel Trouble Tomorrow by Terry Whitebeach and Sarafino Enadio is an absorbing and eye-opening addition to this canon of literature. We received a copy from Allen & Unwin Australia for review and here is the blurb from Goodreads:
Based on a true story, this compelling novel tells an incredible tale of courage, resilience and hope, about a Sudanese boy who survives civil war, a treacherous journey and many years in a refugee camp before finding peace.
Obulejo dreams he is standing by the stream with his friend Riti, hauling in spangled tilapia fish, one after the other … Tat-tat-tat-tat! Brrrmm! Rrrrr! Ul-lu-lu-lu-lah! Obulejo slams awake, heart racing, and scrambles up off his mat. Gunshots and screams jab the air. Flashes of light pierce the darkness. The Rebels! Run!
Obulejo’s name means ‘trouble tomorrow’ in the Ma’di language, and there is plenty of trouble for sixteen-year-old Obulejo when his town is attacked by Rebel troops. Separated from family and close friends, Obulejo flees into the hills and then makes a terrifying journey, full of danger from wild animals and pursuing soldiers. Once across the border in a refugee camp, he is safer but has no future – until he joins a pioneering peace education program and begins to find ways to create a more hopeful life for himself and others.
Much like Obulejo’s journey to freedom, this story is not one for the faint of heart. Right from the off it is made clear that violence and hardship will form a large part of Obulejo’s story and within the first few chapters the boy has lost his family, his home and most of the people he knows and trusts. The book opens on Obulejo’s blind run through the night to escape the Rebel’s gunfire and the possibility of capture, before reverting to tell a little of his homelife before danger descends.
The book can be loosely divided into three stages: Obulejo’s flight from his home toward the safety of the Sudanese-Kenyan border; his first years in refugee camps and his decision to make a better life for himself through education – both his own and others’. Thus, the first section of the book is action packed, the fear and desperation almost palpable as Obulejo and a random assortment of people he ends up with go to incredible lengths to put themselves out of the reach of the Rebels, with varying amounts of success. The middle section keenly relates the despair and monotony of life in a refugee camp, as well as the ever-present dangers of starvation, sickness and violence that mar the daily routine of survival. It was fascinating to see how quickly a person’s ethical code is broken down in times of such enormous stress and fear, as shown by Obulejo’s decisions to steal, fight and generally go against his own personal morals in order to stay alive.
The final section of the book deals with Obulejo’s decision to move away from those actions that cause him such trouble, despite the fact that his stealing meets his basic needs in an immediate way. His decision to return to education – such as it is offered in the camp – appears to be a life-changing one, not only for him but for many around him as Obulejo becomes a force for good in his own life and in the camp. The prologue deals briefly with Obulejo’s life after the camp when he and his eventual wife and child are accepted for residency in Australia.
While not always an easy read, Trouble Tomorrow is an important story for all Australians – and indeed, any resident of planet Earth – to explore, in order to better understand the reasons why people leave their homes for a life of uncertainty, and why prosperous nations have an obligation to support refugees in any way they can. Interestingly, I found not the violence and chaos of the flight from the Rebels the most disturbing part of the story, but rather the endless, tedious monotony of the refugee camps. To think of young people, children, families having the prime years of their lives leeched away in a state of basic survival, not knowing when, if ever, they will be able to resume a “normal” life, is confronting and deeply saddening.
If you are stout of heart and ready to open your mind to the plight that many people in our world are currently experiencing, I would recommend having a look at Trouble Tomorrow.
Until next time,