Escape from Slavery: The True Story of My Ten Years in Captivity and My Journey to Freedom in America

( 8 )


Winner of the Books for a Better Life/Suze Orman First Book Award

May 1986: Seven-year-old Francis Bok was selling his mother's eggs and peanuts near his village in southern Sudan when Arab raiders on horseback burst into the quiet marketplace, murdering men and gathering the women and young children into a group. Strapped to horses and donkeys, Francis and others were taken north into lives of slavery under wealthy Muslim farmers.

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Escape from Slavery: The True Story of My Ten Years in Captivity and My Journey to Freedom in America

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Winner of the Books for a Better Life/Suze Orman First Book Award

May 1986: Seven-year-old Francis Bok was selling his mother's eggs and peanuts near his village in southern Sudan when Arab raiders on horseback burst into the quiet marketplace, murdering men and gathering the women and young children into a group. Strapped to horses and donkeys, Francis and others were taken north into lives of slavery under wealthy Muslim farmers.

For ten years, Francis lived in a shed near the goats and cattle that were his responsibility. After two failed attempts to flee—each bringing severe beatings and death threats—Francis finally escaped at age seventeen. He persevered through prison and refugee camps for three more years, winning the attention of United Nations officials who granted passage to America.

Now a student and an antislavery activist, Francis Bok has made it his life mission to combat world slavery. His is the first voice to speak to an estimated 27 million people held against their will in nearly every nation, including our own. Escape from Slavery is at once a riveting adventure, a story of desperation and triumph, and a window revealing a world that few have survived to tell.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A gripping story of terror and triumph."

- Ebony

"A touching modern-day slave inspirational story meant to heighten support for the antislavery movement of the 21st century, and it most likely will."

- Joanne Skerrett, The Boston Globe

"Gripping...mindblowing. A-."

- Karyn L. Barr, Entertainment Weekly


- Lewis Beale, USA Weekend

"[Escape from Slavery] carries the uncalculating ring of truth."

- San Francisco Chronicle

"How will the world respond to Francis Bok's true story? Some will welcome its commercial profitability and entertainment value. And some will seek to change the world."

- Anne Grant, Providence Journal

"Francis Bok is too young for anyone to predict a life of immortal dimensions. But if his heart-rending and powerful memoir...has just one-tenth of the impact of [Frederick] Douglass, his name will be remembered by more than a few."

- Cary Clack, San Antonio Express-News

"This is a powerful, exceptionally well-told story, equally riveting and heartbreaking. Although legal strides have been made, with the help of people like Bok, the persistence of slavery in the world makes this a work that can't be ignored."

- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Bok's saga provides another—more contemporary—perspective on slavery for Americans reckoning with their own troubling history of such inhumanity."

f0 - Booklist

Publishers Weekly
Seven-year-old Francis Piol Bol Buk was living happily on his family's southern Sudan farm. One day in 1986, he was sent on errands to the marketplace. There, a slave raid ripped him from his contented life and threw him into a wretched existence serving under a northern Sudanese Arab. After he escaped at age 17, Buk made his way to Cairo with a black market passport incorrectly listing his name as Bok and became a U.N. refugee allowed to settle in the U.S. in 1999. Although he found contentment in Iowa among other refugees, the following year Bok decided to work with an American antislavery organization, and testified before Congress about the atrocities in Sudan. While this is a remarkable story, its power is conveyed most effectively through Bok's simple retelling. His sincerity compels, especially when he describes the decade of mistreatment he endured. After two failed escape attempts, he's told he'll be killed in the morning, and while bound, he thinks of the morning ahead: "I would be dead and finally through with this place and this family. My mind preferred death." Yet when his master changes his mind, Bok immediately starts plotting again. For all his emotional strength, though, Bok remains humble. He thanks God and everyone who helps him escape slavery. This is a powerful, exceptionally well-told story, equally riveting and heartbreaking. Although legal strides have been made, with the help of people like Bok, the persistence of slavery in the world makes this a work that can't be ignored. Maps, photos not seen by PW. Agent, Jim Levine. (Oct.) Forecast: An author tour, a print advertising campaign, and broadcast and print publicity should stoke interest in this important book. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Bok, abducted from his African village at age seven, became the first escaped slave to testify before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. With a ten-city author tour. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A harrowing memoir in the gothic, almost surreal setting of what some Africans do to other Africans. Born to what he recalls as a blissful, unschooled childhood in southern Sudan, Piol Bol Buk (his Dinka name) was seven in 1986 when he made his first trip alone from his tribal village to the local marketplace. It was his last. For centuries, even, as the author claims, before there was Islam, Arabic people in the vast country’s north have claimed and exercised the right to raid the black settlements to the south for booty, cattle, and human chattel. Kidnapped into slavery by an Arab militiaman as the family goatherd, Bok spends his first traumatized weeks almost in a trance, sleeping on the ground in a crude hut, barely able to eat (the usual fare: meat gone bad). Crying, complaining, and recalcitrant behavior are corrected by swift beatings. Promoted to cowherd by age 12, he twice attempts to escape and is ultimately recaptured and told he will be shot in the morning. His master relents—"He needed me too much," Bok recalls—but finally, after ten full years of captivity, he gets away. The accrued psychological trials are tortuous: learn Arabic to survive; after escaping, relearn Dinka and try to locate the parents you haven’t heard of in a decade. Unable to find word of his parents and in constant fear of informants who at one point label him an opponent of the government, Bok makes his way to Cairo and eventually, through the UN refugee program, to the US. He is the first escaped slave to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a practice that, overlaid by Africa’s longest running civil war and the indifference of a now Islamist government (some Dinka areChristian), persists, unbelievably, to this day. Halting, traumatized account of cruelty and suffering. Author tour. Agent: Jim Levine/James Levine Communications
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312306243
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 10/4/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 299,282
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Francis Bok is an Associate at the Boston-based American Anti-Slavery Group. He speaks throughout the United States and has been featured in the Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, the Wall Street Journal, Essence, and on Black Entertainment Television. He lives in Boston.

Edward Tivnan has collaborated on and is the author of several books. He was a reporter and staff writer for Time magazine and helped create ABC's 20/20. He lives in upstate New York.

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Reading Group Guide

Understanding the Book

1. Chapter 1 (“The Raid”) details when and where and how Francis Bok was captured. Summarize these facts. What do we learn of the home life Bok enjoyed before his abduction? Describe his family and personal background: his parents, siblings, relatives, and friends—and their culture, livelihood, etc.

2. Define the Arabic word abeed—that is, explain the two different meanings of this term. How do these dual meanings reflect the views of certain Arabs?

3. Identify Bok’s tasks, responsibilities, and burdens as a slave. Whose slave is he? Describe Bok’s masters, and describe how they treat him. What is he forced to do?

4. Early in his account, Bok writes of his captors: “The one thing I could not take was being unable to understand what these people were saying.” How does Giemma react when he first hears Bok addressing him in his own language? First explain Giemma’s reaction, then explain what Bok learns from this scene about his own “situation.” What sort of plan does Bok begin making as Chapter 4 ends?

5. In Chapter 5, Bok is given a new name. What is it? What does it mean? Who gives it to him? Is it a fitting or accurate name? Explain. What other names does Bok acquire over the course of his saga? How would you characterize the relationship between name and identity as a theme running through Escape from Slavery?

6. Who is Bejuk? Where does Bok meet him? What language do they speak when meeting for the second time? And why is talking in this language so dangerous?

7. Looking back on where he stood with Giemma and his family at the outset of his seventh year with them, Bok writes: “While I did not know I was a slave, I certainly knew I was not free.” Try to explain, or give context to, this distinction.

8. Were you surprised at Giemma’s decision to spare Bok’s life in Chapter 8? Explain. And why do you think Giemma decided to do so? Also, describe the “double game” Bok talks about in this chapter. Could you yourself ever “play” such a dualistic game? Explain why or why not.

9. How old is Bok when he successfully escapes from Giemma? How does he do it? Where does he go? And what happens when Bok seeks out the aid of the bolis?

10. Who is Abdah? How do he and Bok meet? What does he do for Bok—and, more importantly, what do his deeds mean to Bok in a larger, more personal, or philosophical sense? How do Abdah’s actions change the way Bok views Muslims? Also, describe the man Bok encounters at the end of Chapter 9. Who is he? Where is he from? How does he assist Bok on his journey? And why does he do so?

11. Define the Arabic term jabarona. Why is this an apt name for the district in Khartoum where the Dinka refugees live? Who is Garang, and why does he give Bok food and shelter? Also, what does Bok do in Jabarona that leads to his arrest?

12. What is the “process” described in Chapter 11? Explain the steps involved in this procedure. Why does Bok deem himself an attractive candidate for the process?

13. Reviewing Chapters 12 and 13, identify the key individuals and groups who helped Bok on his remarkable trek to America—his contacts in Jabarona, on the black market, in Cairo, at the UN office, etc.

14. Where in the United States does Bok first live upon emigrating in August of 1999? Who looks after him? What does he do to earn money? Describe both the difficulties and delights that Bok experiences as a newly arrived American—for example, his feelings about the food, the clothes, his apartment, city life, television, etc. And why does Bok then decide, midway through Chapter 15, to move to Iowa?

15. What is the AASG? Why is Bok at first not interested in working with this organization? Who or what changes his mind? Describe the work that Bok starts doing for this group. Where does this work take him? What does it entail? And how would you characterize Bok’s influence on this group?

16. On his first day at the AASG office, Bok learns some alarming facts about the continuing presence of slavery in the world today. Paraphrase these facts. Approximately how many slaves are estimated to exist worldwide? Were you surprised by this number? Explain.

17. Who is Charles Jacobs? What does he do for a living? Why does Bok admire him so? Describe the bond these two men share.

18. Toward the end of Chapter 16, Bok tells a story about meeting a girl named Christy. Who is she? What lesson does Bok take way from their brief meeting?

19. How does Bok finally learn the fate of his parents, his family? What most likely happened to them? How, at first, does Bok deal with this news? And how does he continue to deal with it, even today?

20. Chapter 18 is entitled “The Education Francis Bok.” Why is getting an education so important to Bok? What does it mean to him? What doors does he believe it can open? And how do Bok’s ideas about education and America itself reflect one another? Also, why do Bok’s classmates at the Boston Evening Academy initially tease and belittle him? What is it that changes their view of Francis Bok?

21. At one point—while discussing the still-ongoing attacks by Arab raiders on the market town of Nyamlell, where he himself, at 7, was captured for enslavement in 1986—Bok writes: “To me this cultural damage was almost more upsetting than the violence to people.” Specify the “cultural damage” that Bok is referring to here.

22. Bok’s memoir more than once appreciatively documents the actions of a man named John Eibner, as well as those of Christian Solidarity International, the organization Eibner directs. Specifically, Bok details the efforts by Eibner and CSI—in Sudan and elsewhere—to conduct slave “redemptions.” Describe these acts of “redeeming”—how and where they are done, for what cost, by what logic, etc. And why does Bok also note that such “redemptions are controversial, even among human rights groups?” Explain the controversy at hand, and explain how you view this issue. Do you applaud these acts? Do you condemn them?

23. How and when is Francis Bok able to get back in touch with his long lost brother, Buk Bol? What does our narrator learn about his older brother? What do they say to each other? Why does Bok tell his brother that “guns are not the only way”—and how does Buk Bol respond to this?

24. Define the Sudan Peace Act. When was it signed into law? What does this act ensure or provide? Explain how Bok, Charles Jacobs, and others at the AASG were involved with both the creation and promotion of this act.

25. Near the conclusion of his Afterword, Bok says he hopes to someday “go back to Sudan to retrieve what I lost by growing up in the north.” Why does Bok equate “real freedom” with “the ability to go back home” in the first place? Explain what has to happen—what must change—before Bok can return to his homeland.

Questions and Exercises for the Class

1. Bok, our hero and narrator, refers to this memoir as “my own attempt to offer documentation of the existence of slavery in Sudan: my life, my story.” But before exploring the book as an exposé of contemporary slavery, discuss what you learned from it about the geography, politics, culture, and history of Africa—especially Sudan. Revisit the map that begins this book, explaining how each of these points figures into Bok’s account: Nyamlell, Khartoum, Wadi Halfa, Cairo, and the Nile.

2. Bok’s memoir is a story of several cultures, peoples, societies, languages. As a class, define the following vocabulary words—all of which appear in this book. These are Dinka terms: muycharko, ajak, murahaliin, Juur, and djellabah. These are Arabic: abuya, jedut, salaam aleikom, and aleikom al-salaam. These are Egyptian: hunga bunga and sayiheen. Also, identify and define other terms you learned herein.

3. “Today,” Bok writes early on, “about twenty percent of the people of southern Sudan [are] Christians, adopting the version of Christianity of the local missionaries who happened to move to their area.” (The other eighty percent believe in a traditional African religion.) The government of Sudan, by contrast, is (as Bok notes elsewhere) “a Taliban-like Islamist regime committed to ruling the entire country according [to] the Koran.” Explain how this conflict manifests itself throughout Bok’s memoir. Why do you think one critic said this book gives us “a glimpse into what can happen when religion is the impetus in the governing of a nation?”

4. The first speech Bok gives about his life as a slave occurs at the Southern Baptist Church in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Why does the pastor introducing Bok tell the children in his congregation that they especially “need to hear” Bok’s words? If you were to recommend Bok’s account to a certain audience, who would it be? Why?

5. Basketball, expensive sneakers, all sorts of music on the radio: Bok finds much to enjoy in American pop culture. But what about the difficulties of his Americanization? Discuss the problems Bok faced in adjusting to life here. Also discuss what you learned from this book about emigrating to (or gaining citizenship in) the U.S.

6. Ever since he started telling his life story publicly, Bok reports, from time to time, someone will call him a liar. Who are the people doing this? After conducting some outside research, prepare a report summarizing the historical context of Bok’s life as both a slave and war-victim in Sudan. But also explain why this history is disputed.

7. “During my stay in the United States,” writes Bok in his Afterword, “and thanks to my education—especially my readings in American and South African history— I have learned that even great walls of racism can be knocked down.” As a class, explore how America and South Africa have evolved, and are still evolving, in this regard—and how, Bok hopes, Sudan might someday follow them.

8. Many readers of Bok’s memoir will be shocked to learn that slavery still exists today, and that several million people are currently enslaved worldwide. In Sudan, of course, the problem is especially severe, and this brings us to the central question of Bok’s Afterword: “How could the rest of the world let such terrible things happen to my people?” How does Bok’s friend and mentor Charles Jacobs answer this urgent query? Explain the racist undertones that Charles identifies within the international human rights community. Do you agree with him? Why or why not?

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Customer Reviews

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( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 12 of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 3, 2013

    This is a book everyone should read. Mr. Bok's story is as inspi

    This is a book everyone should read. Mr. Bok's story is as inspiring as it is incredible. I will never forget his father's words to his small son, words that would help him persevere through his ten years of slavery and eventually escape from his northern Sudanese captors: "You are never one, you are always two." Because of his faith in God, Mr. Bok knew he was never alone and was given the strength to risk everything by running from his captors and eventually settling in America thanks to the United Nations. Sudan is now two countries, but the conflict there is not over, and neither is the centuries-old practice of abducting children as slaves. As hard as it is to believe that slavery could still exist in the twenty-first century, Mr. Bok's story is proof that it does. The West must do all it can to stop this horrible, demeaning, and dehumanizing practice. But first we must be made aware of it. Thanks to Mr. Francis Bok, with assistance from Mr. Edward Tivnan, we now can be.

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  • Posted January 23, 2009

    A painful testament to modern-day slavery

    Mr. Bok begins his disturbing and moving testimony with the raid on his village market in his home country of Sudan by Arabs seeking to enslave the Christian black Africans of the Dinka tribe. The adults were slaughtered and the children taken for forced labor, to be the slaves of wealthy Muslim Arabs in the north. In May of 1986, at the age of only seven, he was forced into a lonely and painful servitude, separated from his family forever, during which he was subjected to beatings and unbelievable subjugation at the hands of his supremacist masters. After ten years of slavery and two failed attempts at escape he finally broke free, making his way to relative safety only to be imprisoned again for speaking the truth about his story and the horrors he witnessed. After spending seven months on a dirty prison floor he was released, warned not to speak of the issue again. Refusing to be silenced by the Sudanese government who sanctioned the widespread atrocities, with the help of God he fled to America in 1999 where he reluctantly but quickly became an iconic figure in disclosing the truth about the genocide in Sudan and fighting slavery around the world. His words depicting the little-known truth of this abomination, created by the Islamofascist movement in his home country that forcefully silences such disclosure, have touched a sensitive nerve here in the US where the reality of terror and the great threat of radical Islam has also been recently experienced. He has spoken at the White House and before the Senate, on television and radio, in front of audiences large and small, boldly telling his eye-opening story to all, facing and refuting his critics who attempt to cover up the disturbing truth of what has become known as the epitome of modern-day slavery, a horror once thought abolished forever. May his quest to one day return to a free Sudan be blessed and the mission of all anti-slavery groups be fulfilled. This book is an absolute must-read for all.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2006

    One Amazing Man

    Francis Bok wrote this story in a way that made it possible to enjoy reading about such a horrific time in his life, that it almost makes you feel guilty for liking it so much. He also writes with such detail that it made me feel like I was right there watching him and wanting to help him.This book was very hard to read, but I believe it was definitely worth it. I think anyone who can really handle the truth about the evil in our world should read this book for the knowledge and enlightenment you will gain. Francis Bok is such an Amazing man I respect him so much for now dedicating his life to help others in the same situation

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2003

    Up from Jihad

    The cruelty that Francis Bok experienced at age seven defies civilized human conception. One day in 1986, his mother Marial sent him to Nyamlell¿s market from their Southern Sudan Dinka village of Gourion to sell eggs and peanuts. His father Pial Bol Buk had recently called Francis 'Muycharko' -- ¿like twelve men.¿ He would be successful and achieve something important. Eventually, his father¿s hope proved prophetic. But in 1986 Francis could count to no more than ten and still played alweth and Madallah -- Dinka hide-and-seek and cricket. His mother sent older friends to supervise his first independent market trip. The Catholic boy nicknamed Piol, for rain, that day lost his childhood and world to the murahaliin. After torching the nearby villages and slaying their inhabitants, 20 light-skinned Juur horsemen charged into Nyamlell. They severed the heads of all Dinka men with single sword strokes, left them rolling in the blood-soaked market dust and stole Piol¿s older friends Abuk, Kwol and Nyabol. A rifleman permanently silenced a crying girl with a bullet to her head. A swordsman more ¿mercifully¿ sliced off her sister¿s leg at the thigh like the branch of a small tree. Francis tried to flee. Terror squelched his cries. He was halted at gunpoint, grabbed and slung astride a small saddle, crafted specifically (as he later recognized) to carry abducted children, and ridden far north. After President Bush signed the toughened Sudan Peace Act on October 18, 2002, Americans became increasingly aware of Islamist Sudan¿s government support for mass enslavement and genocide of Southern Sudanese Christians and animists. But few have noted that Francis Bok¿s experience--and the ongoing Arab and Muslim genocide against 2 million Southern Sudanese Dinka--are merely modern manifestations of Islamic Jihad tradition established by Islamic jurists and rulers--from the Caliphs to the Ottomans, to current-day tyrants like Sudan¿s Hasan at-Turabi. ¿Jihad,¿ wrote Rashad Ali in Khilafah Magazine in December 2001, ¿is the removal of obstacles, by force if necessary, that stand between people and Islam.¿ He terms this violent Jihad the practical means of spreading Islam, and pronounces it compulsory to all Muslims. It is also, he writes, ¿continuous and will always be so.¿ Francis Bok recognized in his treatment a kind of systematic, institutionalized cruelty. He was beaten, forced to tend and sleep with animals, fed rotting meat, and cursed as a jedut¿maggot¿even after his master pressed a Muslim name and prayers upon him. Abdul Rahman ironically means ¿servant of the compassionate one.¿ But there was not one second of compassion during Bok¿s 10 years of captivity, although he was one of the lucky ones. He many times tried to escape, and failed. His penalties were mere beatings. Other Dinka escapees routinely lost their limbs when recaptured. Giemma Abdullah threatened the same; Bok didn¿t believe him, until he saw other Dinkas, limbless. Finally, at 17, Francis Bok took the cows one morning, and from the road near their grazing area ran all the way to Mutari. After further privations and imprisonments, Bok finally hid in a truck en route to ed-Da¿ein, fled to Khartoum, to Cairo, and as a refugee, in 1999, to the U.S. He landed in the U.S. poor, illiterate, and 20. But as Bok quite naturally also admits, he was like all Jihad's victims, unaware of the institution¿s name, much less its history. During 10 long years of enslavement by Giemma Abdullah in Kerio, Bok learned soon enough that the Arabic word abeed carried three meanings--slave,¿ ¿black¿ and ¿filth.¿ Half his lifetime among Muslims taught him that they considered themselves better than Southern Sudanese infidels. But this hardly educated him on the jihad institution to which his 20th century captors and masters subjected him. He did not recognize himself as an inferior, non-Muslim dhimmi. As Bok later learned, however, the privations he suffered track those exper

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2003

    A Heart piercing story

    Excellent read, with a lesson even more powerful than expressed in the Title. This book waste no time in capturing your heart with its passionate detail and moving message. It is filled with unimaginable hurdles that were conquered through faith and persistance. A modern day hero's tale. My heart was truly pounding as I read each chapter, especially the early chapters set in Africa.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2003


    As I go through the internet search I come across this title of a book that I have read through and found motivational, given the fact that it was a first hand experience of the writer I find it motivational and inspiring to read through. I'm a Kenyan Luo by tribe I have a lot of interest on measures of ending the conflict in Southern Sudan, I feel so close to Sudanese people and I look forward to working as a missionary, humanitarian aid worker or whatever area and oppoertunity that God will lead me to serve the people of Sudan and alleviate their suffering. I'm inspired by the determination of Sudanese people mainly from the South to carry on with live despite hardships...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2003

    Moving and Inspiring!

    I ran into this book at a local store this weekend. I saw the word slavery and looked at the person on the front cover and was surprised that the picture was not medieval but one of a modern looking young gentleman. I went on to buy the book which I read with heightened interest within five hors. I admire Francis¿ strong will and determination for a better life for his people and his pursuit for peace in his country. I am Kenyan. A luo to be precise. Our tribe migrated from the Sudan about 500 years ago in the wake of war and famine. As I read this book, I noticed that some of the Dinka names are ours which means that I may be a descendant of a Dinka. I am therefore shocked and appalled at what is going on at my old home. I don¿t know why my country never publicized this war while I was growing up. (I was twelve in 1986). Lorraine Kombudo

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2003


    Not only did I get to meet Muycharko in one man, Piol, but I sobbed internally reading this book. I couldnt believe how quickly I grazed through it cause as soon as you begin you cannot let go. Please read this book at a cost even if you beleive slavery should exist.

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    Posted August 3, 2011

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    Posted May 14, 2013

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    Posted August 3, 2009

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    Posted April 11, 2011

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