A Long Walk To Water Book Cover

A Long Walk To Water

Genre: Novel, Fiction
Publishing Year: 2010
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A Long Walk to Water begins as two stories, told in alternating sections, about two eleven-year-olds in Sudan, a girl in 2008 and a boy in 1985. The girl, Nya, is fetching water from a pond that is two hours’ walk from her home: She makes two trips to the pond every day. The boy, Salva, becomes one of the “lost boys” of Sudan, refugees who cover the African continent on foot as they search for their families and a safe place to stay. Enduring every hardship from loneliness to attack by armed rebels to contact with killer lions and crocodiles, Salva is a survivor, and his story goes on to intersect with Nya’s in an astonishing and moving way. Includes an afterword by author Linda Sue Park and the real-life Salva Dut, on whom the novel is based, and who went on to found Water for South Sudan.

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A Long Walk To Water Summary


  Southern Sudan, 2008 Nya, an eleven-year-old girl, carries an empty container easily as she walks under the hot sun.    Southern Sudan, 1985 Salva, another eleven-year-old, daydreams during an Arabic class about going home. He's lucky to go to school, but sometimes he misses the carefree days of herding cattle with his brothers. A sudden fire disrupts the class, and the teacher tells everyone to run into the bush to escape the war that has reached their village. The war started two years earlier. Salva didn’t understand much about it, but he knows that rebels from the southern part of Sudan, where he and his family lived, have been fighting against the government, which was based in the north. Most of the people who lived in the north were Muslim, and the government wanted all of Sudan to become a Muslim country—a place where the beliefs of Islam were followed. But the people in the south are of different religions and didn’t want to be forced to practice Islam. They began fighting for independence from the north. The fight was scattered all around southern Sudan, and now the war has come to where Salva lives. Everyone runs—men, children, women carrying babies. The air, full of dust, gets kicked up by all those running feet. Some of the men shout and wave guns. Salva sees all this with one glance. Then he starts running, too. Running as hard as he could, into the bush. Away from home.  


  Southern Sudan, 2008. Nya takes a break from carrying a container and tries to remove a thorn from her foot. Southern Sudan, 1985 Salva witnesses a war-plane dropping bombs near his school. He joins a crowd fleeing the violence and finds temporary refuge with strangers from his village. Later, they encounter rebel soldiers, and Salva is separated from his family but narrowly avoids being mistaken for a man by a soldier.    The soldiers force the village men to carry supplies: guns and mortars, shells, radio equipment. Salva watches as one man protests that he did not want to go with the rebels. A soldier hits him in the face with the butt of a gun. The man falls to the ground, bleeding. Following that, no one dares object. The men shoulder the heavy equipment and leave the camp. Everyone else starts to walk again. They go in the opposite direction from the rebels, for wherever the rebels go, there’s sure to be violence. Salva stays with the group from Loun-Ariik. It’s smaller now, without the men. And except for an infant, Salva is the only child. That evening, they find a barn in which to spend the night. Salva tosses restlessly in the itchy hay. It takes him a long time to fall asleep, as worries about his family’s whereabouts keep him awake. Salva didn’t need to be awake to sense that something was wrong. He stays very still with his eyes closed, trying to sense what it could be. Finally, he sits up, opening his eyes, and the scene baffles him. There’s no one else in the barn. He rushes to the door and looks out. Nobody. Nothing. They left him. Alone!


Southern Sudan, 2008 Nya approaches a pond, observing the vibrant life surrounding it. She scoops up muddy water to drink and fills her container, preparing to carry it home despite her sore foot.  Southern Sudan, 1985 Salva wakes up alone in a barn, feeling abandoned by his group. He spots a woman nearby and cautiously approaches her, relieved to find that she is from his tribe. She offers him food and asks about his family, but Salva's emotions overwhelm him, and he cannot answer. The woman sympathizes with his plight but eventually leaves, unable to care for him any longer.  Salva is left feeling lost and uncertain about his next steps. He spends days working for the woman, hoping to earn her help, but she ultimately advises him to walk away from the fighting. As Salva contemplates his future in the fading light, he hears voices approaching and spots a group of Dinka people, raising his hopes that his family might be among them.  


  Southern Sudan, 2008 Nya's mother serves her a meal before sending her off to the pond with her younger sister, Akeer. Despite Nya's reservations about Akeer's pace, she obediently takes her sister's hand and heads out for their daily routine.   Southern Sudan, 1985 Salva is left feeling dejected as he realizes the group of strangers he has encountered is not his family. However, one woman advocates for Salva to join their group, despite objections from others due to his young age and the additional burden he would pose. Eventually, the group agrees to take Salva along, and he silently vows to be no trouble to them.   As they journey, Salva struggles with hunger and exhaustion, his thoughts consumed by the whereabouts of his family. The group encounters more travelers, including members of the Jur-chol tribe, and their collective journey becomes an endless trek through harsh terrain with little sustenance.   One day, Salva falls behind the group and finds himself walking beside a young man named Buksa from the Jur-chol tribe. Buksa's keen hearing leads them to a beehive, a sign of potential food. Buksa explains that he followed the call of a bird called the honey guide, a skill Salva had only heard of but never witnessed. Excited by the prospect of honey, Salva rushes to inform the rest of the group, eager for the feast that awaits them.  


Southern Sudan, 2008   Nya's family relocates to a camp near a large lake during the dry season to avoid conflicts between their Nuer tribe and the rival Dinka tribe. Nya's task remains the same: fetching water from the lake's clay-filled bed, a laborious process that lasts throughout the dry season.   Southern Sudan, 1985   Salva and his companions suffer bee stings while harvesting honey from a hive. Despite the pain, the sweet reward of honeycomb provides much-needed nourishment. As their group grows with new arrivals, Salva meets Marial, another boy searching for his family. They bond over their shared circumstances and decide to stick together.   As they journey eastward, Marial's optimism uplifts Salva, even as they face dangers from both natural predators and the uncertainty of their destination. Their laughter and camaraderie provide solace amid the challenges of their journey.   After over a month of walking, they find themselves in the land of the Atuot people, known for their fierce lions. Nights become restless with the distant roars of lions, adding to their apprehension. Despite the dangers, Salva and Marial continue their journey, their friendship providing strength and hope.   One morning, Salva is stunned when he hears his name called from behind, raising hopes of a long-awaited reunion.  


  Southern Sudan, 2008 Nya's family continues their annual tradition of relocating to the lake camp during the dry season. While Nya appreciates the respite from daily trips to the pond, she notices her mother's growing discomfort with the camp's makeshift conditions and the constant fear of encounters with the rival Dinka tribe.   Southern Sudan, 2008 Salva is overwhelmed with emotion when he reunites with his Uncle Jewiir, who promises to look after him. Uncle Jewiir, a former army man, assumes a leadership role within their group. Despite their exhaustion, Uncle's successful hunt for a topi provides a much-needed meal, though Salva's overindulgence leads to a night of sickness for him and others in the group.   As they journey through the land of the Atuot people, the group faces the constant threat of lions and struggles to find water. Exhausted from their journey, they finally settle down for a brief rest, only for Salva to receive heartbreaking news of Marial's passing, leaving him devastated and grieving.  


  Southern Sudan, 2008 Nya grapples with the decision of whether to seek medical help for her sister, Akeer, who is suffering from a debilitating illness. Despite the difficulty of the journey, Nya's family considers traveling to a medical clinic several days away, hoping that doctors can provide the necessary treatment.   Southern Sudan, 1985 Salva experiences profound fear and loss after Marial's tragic encounter with a lion during the night. Salva's uncle becomes a source of comfort and guidance, reassuring him and promising to protect the group from further dangers. As they approach the Nile River, Salva is filled with mixed emotions, reflecting on Marial's earlier prediction about their journey to Ethiopia.   The group faces the arduous task of constructing boats to cross the Nile, a process that requires collective effort and skill. Despite the uncertainty of their future and the lingering threat of war, Salva finds solace in the busy work, feeling a sense of purpose and distraction from his worries. Finally, they embark on their journey across the Nile, marking a significant milestone in their quest for safety and survival.  


Southern Sudan, 2008 Akeer's recovery brings relief and joy to Nya's family as they realize the importance of clean water in preventing illness. Despite the challenges of boiling water at the lake camp, they look forward to returning home where they can access cleaner water from the village pond. However, concerns remain about the future and the ongoing struggle for access to safe drinking water.   Southern Sudan, 1985 Salva experiences a stark contrast between his past life of abundance and his current struggle for survival. Visiting a fishing community along the Nile, Salva marvels at the abundance of food and reflects on the simple pleasures of his childhood, like enjoying mangoes with his family. However, the harsh reality of their journey is evident as they face a relentless onslaught of mosquitoes during the night, leaving them sleepless and covered in painful bites.   As they prepare to continue their journey, the group faces the daunting prospect of crossing the Akobo desert, knowing that water will be scarce and the challenges ahead will test their resilience and determination.


Southern Sudan, 2008 Nya's village prepares to return to the lake camp when unexpected visitors arrive. While the purpose of their visit remains unclear, it seems to involve discussions about water, a vital resource in their arid environment. Nya observes the interactions from a distance, curious about the nature of the conversation and its potential implications for her community.   Southern Sudan, 1985 Salva and his group brave the harsh Akobo desert, enduring extreme heat and exhausting conditions. Salva's resilience is tested as he faces physical discomfort and emotional turmoil, including the loss of his toenail from injury. However, his uncle's encouragement and practical guidance help Salva persevere, offering small comforts like tamarind fruit to alleviate his suffering.   As the journey continues, Salva's group encounters a distressing scene: a group of men collapsed in the desert, suffering from dehydration and exhaustion. Despite warnings from others in the group, one woman shows compassion by offering water to the suffering men, highlighting the moral dilemma of prioritizing self-preservation versus aiding those in desperate need.  


Southern Sudan, 2008 A group of men arrive in Nya's village, engaging in discussions with her uncle about water sources. Despite Nya's familiarity with the area, she is puzzled by their conversation, as the spot they indicate between two trees is a common gathering place for the village, devoid of any water source.   Southern Sudan, 1985 Salva's group faces the grueling challenges of crossing the Akobo desert. Despite their efforts to conserve water, several members succumb to dehydration, leaving behind five dead companions. Salva confronts the harsh reality of their situation and the uncertainty of his future, particularly regarding his family's fate and his impending separation from his uncle.   As the group nears the end of their desert journey, they encounter a shallow pool of muddy water and a dead stork, providing a meager opportunity for sustenance. However, their moment of respite is shattered when armed men approach, robbing them of their belongings and tying Uncle to a tree. Despite hopes that the ordeal might end with the robbery, the men cruelly shoot Uncle before fleeing the scene, leaving Salva and the rest of the group devastated and vulnerable.  


Southern Sudan, 2008 Nya continues to labor tirelessly alongside her family to clear land between trees, despite doubts about the presence of water in such a dry and rocky environment.    Southern Sudan, 1985   Salva grapples with the loss of his uncle and friend, Marial, during their journey through the harsh desert. Despite his grief, Salva finds newfound strength and determination to survive, fueled by memories of his loved ones and a desire to prove himself capable to the rest of the group.   Upon reaching the Itang refugee camp in Ethiopia, Salva is overwhelmed by the sheer number of people gathered there, including many young boys who, like him, have fled their villages to escape the horrors of war. Despite the relative safety of the camp, Salva feels unsettled by the unfamiliar surroundings and the uncertainty of his family's whereabouts. Determined to reunite with his loved ones, Salva embarks on a search through the crowded camp, hoping against hope to find them among the sea of faces.   Despite the challenges of adjusting to life in the camp, Salva finds solace in the provision of food and the absence of immediate danger. However, his restlessness persists as he watches new arrivals enter the camp, desperately searching for any sign of his family. When he catches sight of an orange headscarf, reminiscent of his mother's, Salva is filled with a surge of hope and determination, pushing through the crowds in pursuit of the elusive figure, determined not to lose sight of the potential connection to his past and his family.  


  Southern Sudan, 2009   The arrival of two men and their crew in the Southern Sudanese village signals the beginning of a significant project involving the installation of a tall drill known as the "iron giraffe" and the laying of plastic pipes. Nya's mother and other women contribute by collecting rocks for the project, although the purpose of the endeavor remains unclear to Nya. The village is alive with the sounds of machinery and labor, yet the promise of water remains elusive amidst the bustling activity.   In the Itang refugee camp in Ethiopia in 1985 Salva's desperate search for his family culminates in a heartbreaking realization: his loved ones are gone, lost to the violence and chaos of war. Left alone in the world, Salva grapples with overwhelming grief and despair, but finds solace in the memory of his family's love and his uncle's words of encouragement during their journey through the desert. Determined to honor their memory, Salva resolves to face each day as it comes, finding strength in the simple act of survival.   Years later, in 1991 The stability of the refugee camp is threatened as rumors of its closure spread among the residents. Amidst growing fear and uncertainty, Salva, now a young man, learns of the impending evacuation of the camp by Ethiopian soldiers. Chaos erupts as thousands of refugees are forcibly driven from the camp, their desperate flight leading them towards the perilous Gilo River, where the treacherous currents and lurking crocodiles pose a deadly threat to their survival.  


  Southern Sudan, 2009   Nya observes the challenging process of drilling for water in her Southern Sudanese village. Despite setbacks like leaking pipes, the determined crew persists under the leadership of a boss who motivates them with encouragement and occasional sternness.    Ethiopia–Sudan–Kenya, 1991–92 Salva finds himself caught in a harrowing escape attempt from Ethiopia to Sudan, amidst chaos and violence. Forced into the treacherous Gilo River, he narrowly escapes death by drowning, bullets, and crocodiles, ultimately finding himself leading a group of over fifteen hundred boys on a perilous journey towards safety in Kenya. Despite the constant threat of war and hardship, Salva's resilience and leadership guide the group through countless challenges, one day at a time, until they finally reach their destination after a year and a half of tiring travel.


  Southern Sudan, 2009 Nya's village celebrates the successful drilling of a borehole, but their joy is tempered by the discovery that the water is murky and filled with mud.    Ifo refugee camp, Kenya, 1992–96 Salva endures years of hardship and despair, first at the Kakuma camp and then at Ifo. Amidst the bleakness, he finds hope when an aid worker named Michael offers him English lessons and teaches him how to play volleyball. As rumors of resettlement to America spread through the camp, Salva's excitement grows, but he faces disappointment when he repeatedly fails to make the list of candidates. Finally, after months of anticipation, Salva's name appears on the list, and he learns that he will be going to Rochester, New York, bringing him newfound hope and excitement for the future.


Southern Sudan, 2009   Nya's village awaits the completion of a borehole, knowing they must wait several more days for the water to be clean and safe to drink.    Nairobi, Kenya—Rochester, New York, 1996   Meanwhile, in 1996, Salva embarks on a journey from Nairobi, Kenya, to Rochester, New York, as part of a group of "Lost Boys" resettling in America. The process involves numerous bureaucratic steps and several flights, each filled with new experiences for Salva, from receiving new clothes to tasting Coca-Cola for the first time in years. Upon arrival in Rochester, Salva is greeted by his new family, who provide him with warm clothing and a sense of belonging as he takes his first steps into his new life in America.  


Southern Sudan, 2009   In 2009, the villagers continue their work after witnessing the first spray of water from the borehole. Nya's father begins clearing land for construction, hinting at exciting developments for the village's future.   Rochester, New York, 1996-2003 Salva navigates the challenges of adapting to life in America. He marvels at the paved roads, experiences the peculiarities of the English language, and dedicates himself to his studies and volleyball. Over time, he envisions returning to Sudan to assist his homeland despite the daunting obstacles. Then, a surprising email brings news of his father's recovery in a remote Sudanese clinic. Determined to reunite with his father, Salva embarks on a lengthy and arduous journey, facing bureaucratic hurdles and logistical challenges. Finally, after weeks of travel, he arrives at the clinic, hopeful and determined to find his father.  


Southern Sudan, 2009   Nya's father reveals the exciting news that they are building a school in their village, bringing hope and opportunity for education to all the children, including girls.    Sudan and Rochester, New York, 2003–2007 In a poignant reunion, Salva visits his father, Mawien Dut Ariik, in a crowded clinic in Sudan after nearly nineteen years apart. Overwhelmed with emotion, they share tears of joy and reminisce about their family. Despite the challenges of illness and war, their bond remains strong. As Salva returns to America, he is inspired by his visit with his father to pursue a project to help the people of Sudan. With determination and support from his new community, Salva works tirelessly to raise funds and awareness, speaking to hundreds of people and overcoming obstacles one step at a time to make his dream a reality.


Southern Sudan, 2009 The completion of a well brings joy and transformation to Nya's village. Named in honor of a school in America whose students raised funds for its construction, the well represents newfound access to clean water and the promise of progress. As Nya and her community celebrate the well's inauguration, they anticipate the positive changes it will bring, including the completion of a school and the establishment of a marketplace and medical clinic. However, Nya is surprised to learn that the crew leader responsible for drilling the well is Dinka. The Dinka and the Nuer are enemies—have been for hundreds of years. "Why would a Dinka bring water to us?" she wonders aloud. "I heard Uncle and Father talking about him," Dep says. "He has drilled many wells for his own people. This year he decided to drill for the Nuer as well." Dep didn’t really answer Nya's question. He probably doesn't know the answer, she thinks. But now Nya feels there’s something she has to do. She walks over to the man, who doesn’t notice her at first, so she waits quietly.But soon acknowledges her presence.  Shyness floods through Nya and at this moment, she doubts her ability to speak. She looks down at the ground, then at the stream of water still flowing from the pump mouth. "Thank you," she says, looking up at him bravely, finally having found her voice."Thank you for bringing the water." The man smiles. "What is your name?" "I am Nya." "I am happy to meet you, Nya," he says. "My name is Salva."

Based on a True Story

This book is based on the true story of Salva Dut's life, chronicling his journey from a small village in southern Sudan to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya before resettling in the United States.    Salva expresses gratitude to various individuals and organizations, including the United Nations, the International Red Cross, the Moore family, St. Paul Episcopal Church, and the community of Rochester, New York, for their support and welcome.    He acknowledges the importance of education, particularly his time at Monroe Community College, and extends special thanks to those who have contributed to his project, Water for Sudan, Inc. Salva's message to young people emphasizes the importance of hope and perseverance in overcoming challenges, urging them to stay calm and steadfast in the face of adversity. The author of the book, based on extensive research, interviews, and personal experiences, acknowledges that while some details have been fictionalized, the major events in the story are rooted in Salva's own life.    The narrative portrays the harrowing experiences of the Second Sudanese Civil War, highlighting the plight of the "Lost Boys" who traversed through war-torn regions in search of safety. The book sheds light on the broader context of the conflict, detailing the atrocities committed and the subsequent peace efforts, including the Sudan Peace Act and the signing of a peace accord between north and south Sudan.    The ongoing conflict in Darfur is also mentioned, underscoring the continued suffering endured by the people of Sudan. Despite the challenges, Salva's nonprofit organization, Water for Sudan, has made significant strides in providing clean water to communities in southern Sudan, symbolizing hope and resilience amidst adversity.    The author expresses gratitude to Salva for his friendship and inspiration, emphasizing the privilege of sharing his remarkable story with the world.

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About the author

Linda Sue Park, a Korean-American author, debuted at age 9 with a published haiku. Known for her diverse children’s novels, she gained acclaim with her 2002 Newbery Medal-winning book, A Single Shard. Notable works include A Long Walk to Water, When M...

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