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The Bite of the Mango

The Bite of the Mango

4.3 11
by Mariatu Kamara, Susan McClelland

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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.


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.

As told to her by Mariatu, journalist Susan McClelland has written the heartbreaking true story of the brutal attack, its aftermath and Mariatu’s eventual arrival in Toronto where she began to pull together the pieces of her broken life with courage, astonishing resilience and hope.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Relaying her experiences as a child in Sierra Leone during the 1990s, Kamara chillingly evokes the devastating effects of war. Mariatu is 11 when her tiny village is decimated by rebel soldiers, many of them children like her. Forced to watch as peaceful villagers are tortured and murdered, Mariatu is finally allowed to go free-but only after boy soldiers cut off her hands: "We want you to go to the president," they tell her, "and show him what we did to you. You won't be able to vote for him now." Mariatu's long walk to get medical aid marks the first stage of a harrowing journey to build a new life for herself and other wartime victims; she now lives in Canada and is a UNICEF representative. Written with journalist McClelland, her story is deeply personal yet devoid of self-pity. As it aims to correct misperceptions about Sierra Leone and to raise awareness of the needs of child victims of war, this book will unsettle readers-and then inspire them with the evidence of Mariatu's courage. Ages 14-up. (Nov.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
VOYA - Heather Christensen
Mariatu was just twelve years old when armed rebels - many no older than she - attacked not far from her village in Sierra Leone and brutally cut off her hands. Left alone, she made the dangerous journey through the jungle to the closest town. From there, she was sent to Freetown, where she joined the ranks of children orphaned and maimed by rebel forces, including many from her own village. While receiving medical care for her wounds, a nurse surprised Mariatu with the news of her pregnancy. Not until a distant relative quietly gave her an impromptu sex education lesson was Mariatu able to explain to doctors and family members that the pregnancy was not the result of her encounter with the rebels but from a rape by an older man in her village. McClelland uses Mariatu's spare language to drive this gripping story, preventing it from lapsing into a sensationalized account of horrific violence. Although the images of war and hostility are truly disturbing, Mariatu's indomitable spirit will resonate most with teens. Her determination to maintain control and responsibility for her own decisions will undoubtedly inspire readers of all ages. Indeed the same resolve that led her out of the jungle and helped her discover new ways to function without hands, eventually led her to a new life in Canada that includes college, friends, and important work as a UNICEF representative. Reviewer: Heather Christensen
School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up

Kamara's account of the atrocities she suffered at the hands of rebel soldiers in Sierra Leone is both harrowing and hopeful. The young woman had a typical childhood in her small rural village until she came face to face with rebels bent on destroying everything in their path. After bearing witness to the torture and murder of several townspeople, one soldier chopped off both of her hands with a machete and left her for dead. Summoning all of her courage, she found her way to a nearby hospital where she was reunited with her surviving family members. There, the 12-year-old discovered she was pregnant and was reduced to begging in the streets to keep herself and her son alive. When journalists arrived to document the horrors of life in her country, Kamara was understandably wary. However, being featured in their stories led to benefactors wanting to find a way to take her to a country where she could heal mentally and physically. After landing in Canada, Kamara found a home and a surrogate family who encouraged her not only to obtain an education, but also to share her story with the world. Her narrative is honest, raw, and powerful. In the same vein as Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (Farrar, 2007), the book sheds light on a plight of which many people are still unaware.-Kelly McGorray, Glenbard South High School Library, Glen Ellyn, IL

A "must read" for teens.
— Denise Moore
January Magazine (Best of 2008: Children's Books)
[Best of 2008: Children's Books] A compelling, unmissable book.
This haunting memoir adds an essential voice to the growing body of literature about Sierra Leone's civil war. Kamara's peaceful childhood ended in shocking violence when rebels arrived in her small rural village. During the devastating attack, child soldiers cut off 12-year-old Kamara's hands, but she managed to escape and carry herself to the relative safety of a town hospital. Kamara describes her first years after the attack, spent begging in the streets of Freetown and sleeping in refugee camps, and then her slow route to Toronto, where she currently attends college. Kamaras account, shaped by journalist McClelland, is made even more powerful by the plain, direct language that presents the horrifying facts without sensationalizing. Even more astonishing than the inconceivable crimes that Kamara endures is the strength, forgiveness, and hope that she discovers as she heals.
Recommended for older teens, but adults won't be able to put the book down either.
— Robin Farrell Edmunds
Manhattan Mercury
A story that older teens and adults won't be able to put down.
— Robin Farrell Edmonds
San Francisco Bay Area Parent
Horrifying and inspiring, [Kamara's] memoir tells an unforgettable story of courage, resilience and hope.
ForeWord - Robin Farrell Edmunds
Despite the intense subject matter, the book is not overly graphic or gratuitous. It's recommended for older teens, but adults won't be able to put the book down either.
HiRise - Denise Moore
Mauriatu Kamara is a college student in Toronto. She is also a UNICEF Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. When she was 11 years old in Sierra Leone, armed rebels brutally cut off her hands. In The Bite of the Mango, she tells the story of her life: one of survival, resilience, and relationships, also of her love for both Sierra Leone and Canada. A "must read" for teens.
Manhattan Mercury - Robin Farrell Edmonds
This is the story of the results of war as seen through a child's eyes and experiences and retold by the young woman who lived through it. Though the subject matter is intense in spots, the book is not overly graphic in gratuitous details and it's a story that older teens and adults won't be able to put down.
Canadian Children's Book Centre
Starred Selection 2009
Starred Selection 2009
Starred Selection
Africa Access Review - Merry Merryfield
This is an honest and true story told without glamour or artifice.

Product Details

Annick Press, Limited
Publication date:
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Barnes & Noble
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File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

My name is Mariatu, and this is my story. It begins the year I was 11, living with my aunt and uncle and cousins in a small village in Sierra Leone.

I'd lived with my father's sister Marie and her husband, Alie, since I was a baby. I called them Ya for mother and Pa for father, as terms of endearment. It was common in my country for children in the rural areas to be raised by people other than their birth parents.

Our village of Magborou was small, like most villages in Sierra Leone, with about 200 people living there. There were eight houses in the village, made out of clay, with wood and tin roofs. Several families lived in each house. The adults slept in the smaller rooms, and we kids usually slept together in the living room, which we called the parlor. Everyone chipped in and helped each other out. The women would all cook together.
The men would fix the roofs of the houses together. And we kids played together.

None of the kids in my village went to school. My family, like everyone else in Magborou, was very poor. "We need you to help us with the chores on the farm," Marie explained. Occasionally children from wealthier families and villages would pass through Magborou on their way to and from school. Some of these children went to boarding schools in Sierra Leone's capital city, Freetown. I felt sad when I saw them. I wished I could see for myself what a big city looked like.

Starting from the time I was about seven, and strong enough to carry plastic jugs of water or straw baskets full of corn on my head, I spent my mornings planting and harvesting food on our farm outside Magborou. No one owned land in the villages; we all shared the farm. Every four years or so we rotated the crops of cassava -- which is like a potato -- peanuts, rice, peppers, and sweet potatoes.

Even though not everybody who lived in Marie and Alie's house was related by blood, we thought of each other as family, calling one another uncle, aunt, and cousin. Mohamed and Ibrahim, two of my cousins, were already living in the village when I arrived as a baby.

Mohamed was about 17 -- I wasn't entirely sure, since people in the village didn't celebrate birthdays or keep track of how old they were. Mohamed was chubby, with a soft face and warm eyes. He was always trying to make people laugh, even at funerals. Everybody would stay home and mourn when someone in the village died, usually for three days. We didn't work during that time. We sat around, and the adults would cry. But Mohamed would walk in and start making light of everyone's tears.

"If the dead hear you making such a scene," he would say, "they'll come marching back here as ghosts and take over your bodies."

People would look shocked, and Mohamed would then speak more gently. "Really," he would say, "the dead died because it was their time. They wouldn't want you spending your remaining days here on earth crying about them."

Mohamed was a good person. When food was scarce, he'd give his portion to me or the other younger kids, saying, "You eat up, because you're little and need to grow."

Ibrahim couldn't have been more different. He was about a year older than Mohamed, tall and thin. Ibrahim was bossy. When we worked at the farm, he was always telling me and the other smaller kids what to do. If we didn't obey him, he'd kick a shovel or pail or just storm off.

Ibrahim had these episodes in which his body would convulse, his eyes would get glossy, and his mouth would froth. Much later, when I moved to North America, I discovered that the disease he had is called epilepsy.

Magborou was a lively place, with goats and chickens running about and underfoot. In the afternoons I played hide-and-seek with my cousins and friends, including another girl named Mariatu. Mariatu and I were close from the moment we met. We thought having the same name was so funny, and we laughed about lots of other things too. The very first year we were old enough to farm, Mariatu and I pleaded with our families to let us plant our crops beside each other, so that we wouldn't be separated. We spent our nights dancing to the sound of drums and to people singing. At least once a week, the entire village met to watch as people put on performances. When it was my turn to participate, I'd play the devil, dressed up in a fancy red and black costume. After I danced for a while, I'd chase people around and try to scare them, just like the devil does.

I didn't see my parents often, but when I was 10 I went to visit them in Yonkro, the village where they lived. One evening after dinner, as we sat out under the open sky, my dad told me about my life before I went to live with his older sister. The stars and the moon were shining. I could hear the crickets rubbing their long legs together in the bushes, and the aroma of our dinner of hot peppers, rice, and chicken lingered in the air.

"The day you were born was a lucky day," my dad said, sucking on a long pipe filled with tobacco. "You were born in a hospital," he continued, which I knew was very unusual in our village. "Your mother smoked cigarettes, lots of cigarettes, and just before you were about to come out, she got cramps and began to bleed. If you hadn't been in the hospital, where the nurses gave you some medicine to fix your eyes, you would have been blind."

I shivered for a moment, thinking of what life would have been like then.

It was rainy and cold on the day I was born, my dad then told me. "That's a lucky sign," he laughed. "It's good to be married or have a baby on a rainy day."

For a living, my dad hunted for bush meat, which he sold at the market in a nearby town alongside the villagers' harvests. It seemed he wasn't a very good hunter, though, because I knew from Marie that he didn't make much money at it. I knew, too, that he was always getting into trouble, going in and out of jail. The jail was a cage with wooden bars, set in the middle of the village so everyone could peer in at the criminal.

In Sierra Leone, girls spend most of their time with women and other girls, not with their fathers, grandfathers, or uncles. It was nice to be talking with my dad in this way, and I listened carefully as he explained how I had come to be living with Marie and Alie.

My dad had married two women, as many men do in Sierra Leone. Sampa was the older wife; Aminatu, my mother, was the younger one. Before I was born, Sampa had given birth to two boys. Both of them died within a year of coming into the world. When Sampa was pregnant a third time, my dad asked Marie if she would take the child. That way, he hoped the child would live. Santigie, my half-brother, was born three years before me.

Soon after Santigie went to live with Marie, my mom became pregnant with my older sister. Sampa didn't like that. She was a jealous woman who wanted all of my father's attention. So when my sister was born, Sampa sweetly asked my dad to bring Santigie back to live with them.

Marie was my dad's favorite sister. At first, he told me, he didn't want to bring Santigie home, because he knew it would upset her. But eventually he did, as Sampa's sweetness turned sour. She fought with my dad until Santigie moved back in with them. Marie was very sad about it.

Wanting to make both Marie and my dad happy, my mom told Marie that she could raise the child she was expecting. "I don't know whether this child will be a boy or a girl," my mother told her. "But I promise that you can keep the child forever and ever and call him or her your own."

I went to live with Marie as soon as I had been weaned from my mother's milk. For some reason that even my dad forgot, Sampa sent Santigie back to Marie when I was about three. My half-brother and I became very close. We slept side by side on straw mats, ate from the same big plate of food, and washed each other's backs in the river. When we were older,

Meet the Author

Now 22 years old, Mariatu Kamara has been named a UNICEF Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict; a Voices of Courage Honoree by the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children; and has established The Mariatu Foundation, which aims to offer much needed refuge to the ongoing victims of the civil war in Sierra Leone. A documentary about child victims of war, featuring Mariatu, is in the works.

Susan McClelland is an award-winning journalist and recipient of the 2005 Amnesty International Media Award. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.

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Bite of the Mango 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldnt put this book down and i cried and ccouldnt believe that this actually happens to people i am still in shock, i think this a wake up call telling people how they need to do more than just feel pity for the people of sierra leone....
Tani Schrift More than 1 year ago
it was a really inspirational story. i would recommend it to a mature reader. i defenitely teared up a little... very good
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Bite of the Mango by Susan McClelland retells the true story of Mariatu Kamara. At first, Mariatu began her childhood living a structured life. She worked in the mornings, played in the midday, danced in the night, and planned on one day being wed to her best friend Musa. By the time she was eleven, the Sierra Leone civil war broke out and caused rebel attacks on villages all over the country. Mariatu and her family had to flee to a new village to avoid being violently harassed. Despite their attempt to escape, the rebels invaded the new village and instantly killed people right before Mariatu's eyes. Mariatu's life was spared but she did not leave unscathed, as the rebels cut off her hands. A treatment facility helped heal her exposed flesh on her arms. Once she left the facility, Mariatu's lifestyle drastically changed as she had to learn to function with no hands. Her new life leads her on a path of more pain and confliction but then later to new opportunities that she finds in England and Canada. In England, she learns her first words in English and also the importance of self-dependence. This guided her to new adventures in Canada. Here, she learns fluent English and begins her journey on a life of great success. This book conveys the message that you should never lose faith in yourself. Despite having her hands amputated, Mariatu learned to get by using only her arms and teeth. Also, although she came from a poor country and had to learn a new language, she embraced the opportunity to an education. Mariatu could have easily given up on her hopes of a better life. However, she didn't and is now on her way to a very accomplished career. In The Bite of the Mango, I really enjoyed Mariatu's story and her attitude. She at one point almost gave up on her life. Then, she changed her perspective and ultimately became a better person. I respect her for that. Also, reading this book reminded me about the gift of an education that I sometimes take for granted. I didn't like that some parts in this book were a little bit too descriptive though, such as one specific cultural tradition and the rebel attacks. In my opinion, the book was cut short as I wanted to read more about Mariatu's life in present day. Even if someone isn't into nonfiction, they should still definitely read this book because for one it is not very long, two it is an awesome story about someone overcoming adversity, and third it gives a reminder about how good life is in places such as the United States, and also Canada and England that were mentioned in this book. There are a lot of things we as Americans take for granted that people like Mariatu, who come from third world countries, can only dream about. This book reminded me about how fortunate I am.
Anonymous 22 days ago
jbristow More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book. It is sad to hear what children experienced during this time. I find Ms. Kamara remarkable for her courage. After this book, I read one written by a boy soldier to hear the other side. It is just as sad to read what he experienced. both children just trying to survive in their home land.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An amazing story by an amazing woman. In addition, I learned so much!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Its impossible
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am reading this now and it is wonderful but this e version is missing pages and i am very frustrated