Title: The Bite of the Mango
Authors: Mariatu Kamara (with Susan McClelland)
Narrator: Jessica Almasy
Publication Year: 2008
Pages: 216 (audio length: 6 hours 35 minutes)
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Source: Audiobook version purchased from Audible.com
From the cover:
As a child in a small rural village in Sierra Leone, Mariatu Kamara lived peacefully surrounded by family and friends. Rumors of rebel attacks were no more than a distant worry.
But when 12-year-old Mariatu set out for a neighboring village, she never arrived. Heavily armed rebel soldiers, many no older than children themselves, attacked and tortured Mariatu. During this brutal act of senseless violence they cut off both her hands.
Stumbling through the countryside, Mariatu miraculously survived. The sweet taste of a mango, her first food after the attack, reaffirmed her desire to live, but the challenge of clutching the fruit in her bloodied arms reinforced the grim new reality that stood before her. With no parents or living adult to support her and living in a refugee camp, she turned to begging in the streets of Freetown.
In this gripping and heartbreaking true story, Mariatu shares with readers the details of the brutal attack, its aftermath and her eventual arrival in Toronto. There she began to pull together the pieces of her broken life with courage, astonishing resilience and hope.
A few years ago, during my first year of teaching, Mariatu Kamara came to speak at my school. For some reason that I don’t remember (maybe I was teaching that period?) I didn’t get to attend the talk. Having finally read her book, I wish that had gone differently.
The Bite of the Mango is the story of how Kamara lost her hands in a rebel attack in Sierra Leone, and – even more so – about how she lives afterwards. There is a bit of the book in the beginning where she describes what life was like in her village leading up to the attack, and it really helps to set the scene, as well as to show just how unaware most village people were about the supposed “reasons” the rebels had for their actions. This was reinforced during Kamara’s attack: the rebels told her to show the president what they did to her, and she didn’t even know what a president was.
While the book covers a few violent instances (including, but not limited to, the description of her attack), the story is told in a way that does not glorify them and, good for young readers and squeamish adults like myself, does not go into gory detail. I think that this is an important point for me to make, because I’ve read and/or heard of quite a few books that don’t seem to be able to resist giving the reader a graphic mental image. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book for a teenager in large part because I think that it tells Kamara’s story in simple, easy-to-read language, it keeps the reader interested in finding out what happens to her, and it manages to do so without resorting to the shock factor.
The narrator, Almasy, does a good job at conveying the innocence of Kamara’s childhood even while describing difficult things. I think that her youth (or, at least, perceived youth) really helped to set the story up and kept the voice of Kamara really present and clear in the mind of the reader. It also helped me to listen to the audiobook because I could hear the words the way they were meant to be pronounced, and not how I probably would have mangled them in my head had I been reading the paper book.
I think that you’ll enjoy The Bite of the Mango, even if you don’t know much about Sierra Leonean politics. It was definitely a moving and emotional read, one that I will remember for a long time.