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They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan

They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan

4.6 30
by Benjamin Ajak, Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng, Judy A. Bernstein

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Benjamin, Alepho, and Benson were raised among the Dinka tribe of Sudan. Their world was an insulated, close-knit community of grass-roofed cottages, cattle herders, and tribal councils. The lions and pythons that prowled beyond the village fences were the greatest threat they knew.

All that changed the night the government-armed Murahiliin began attacking


Benjamin, Alepho, and Benson were raised among the Dinka tribe of Sudan. Their world was an insulated, close-knit community of grass-roofed cottages, cattle herders, and tribal councils. The lions and pythons that prowled beyond the village fences were the greatest threat they knew.

All that changed the night the government-armed Murahiliin began attacking their villages. Amid the chaos, screams, conflagration, and gunfire, five-year-old Benson and seven-year-old Benjamin fled into the dark night. Two years later, Alepho, age seven, was forced to do the same. Across the Southern Sudan, over the next five years, thousands of other boys did likewise, joining this stream of child refugees that became known as the Lost Boys. Their journey would take them over one thousand miles across a war-ravaged country, through landmine-sown paths, crocodile-infested waters, and grotesque extremes of hunger, thirst, and disease. The refugee camps they eventually filtered through offered little respite from the brutality they were fleeing.

In They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky, Alepho, Benson, and Benjamin, by turn, recount their experiences along this unthinkable journey. They vividly recall the family, friends, and tribal world they left far behind them and their desperate efforts to keep track of one another. This is a captivating memoir of Sudan and a powerful portrait of war as seen through the eyes of children. And it is, in the end, an inspiring and unforgettable tribute to the tenacity of even the youngest human spirits.

Editorial Reviews

Emily Wax Washington Post Book World 8/21/05
"In this tender and lyrical story, the world of... Africa's most desperate children-running away from war...is vividly evoked."
Publishers Weekly
Raised by Sudan's Dinka tribe, the Deng brothers and their cousin Benjamin were all under the age of seven when they left their homes after terrifying attacks on their villages during the Sudanese civil war. In 2001, the three were relocated to the U.S. from Kenya's Kakuma refugee camp as part of an international refugee relief program. Arriving in this country, they immediately began to fill composition books with the memoirs of chaos and culture shock collected here. Well written, often poetic essays by Benson, Alepho and Benjamin, who are now San Diego residents in their mid-20s, are arranged in alternating chapters and recall their childhood experiences, their treacherous trek and their education in the camp ("People were learning under trees"). Other pieces remember the rampant disease and famine among refugees, and the tremendous hardship of day-to-day living ("Refugee life was like being devoured by wild animals"). When the boys arrived in America, Benson, upon seeing a Wal-Mart for the first time, remarked, "This is like a king's palace." Although some readers may wish for more commentary on what life in America is like for these transplants, this collection is moving in its depictions of unbelievable courage. Agent, Joni Evans at William Morris. (June 13) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Three "lost boys" of Sudan remember lives lived far away from the torrents of history. The boys, now young men in their mid-20s, were members of the Dinka tribe, pastoralists who live in the south of the Sudan. The Dinka and their Nuer cousins, whom Benson Deng characterizes as "the tallest and blackest people in Africa," excited much jealousy among the Arab rulers of the Sudan-rulers who, by Deng's account, wanted the fertile lands between the Blue Nile and White Nile for themselves and, in the bargain, demanded that the Dinka convert to Islam. It was not an attractive offer; "as cattle keepers," Benson adds, "we didn't have time to be meditating with the Qu'ran five times a day." Soon government planes came to bomb Dinka villages whose inhabitants tried to fight back with spears; when better-armed rebel soldiers arrived, they guided the survivors to refugee camps in Ethiopia, where, Benson recounts, food and medicine were in constant shortage and "many of the boys got sick and died from eating grass soups, but it was often all we had." Over the next decade, the boys moved among refugee and rebel camps in Kenya and along the Sudanese border, a life that, Alephonsion writes, "was like being devoured by wild animals." That was little better than being one of the rebel soldiers, Benson adds: Once they strapped on AK-47s, they were controlled as tightly as dogs and sent off to die. Finally, their plight to come to the attention of international relief organizations, and thereafter private American efforts, brought the three boys to the U.S., "the land of many gorgeous goods" and of promises that, one hopes, are being kept. Well-meaning, and valuable as a document of the refugee experience.The boys' narrative, however, would have been better served by a commentary explaining the ongoing Sudanese crisis and otherwise adding more depth to this child's-eye view of events.
From the Publisher
“Their words speak for those who no longer have a voice. Their story will take the reader on a trip not soon forgotten of spirits unwilling to be broken.”—San Antonio Express-News

“Their serious tone, broken by the occasional wry smile, memorializes their parents, the land and animals that wove the tapestry of their early childhoods… One reviewer called the book ‘deceptively understated,' But the soft plainness of the young writers' voices, combined with their moral insight, throws the surreal danger and strife into sharp relief.”—San Diego Union-Tribune

“[They Poured Fire] is an amazing account of boys who managed to survive a terrifying ordeal… there's a kind of haunting beauty to their story… After reading this book, readers may feel like they've been on an adventure—or in hell, depending on your point of view. Whatever the case, this book is an eye-opener.”—Rocky Mountain News

“A moving, beautifully written account, by turns raw and tender…”—Los Angeles Times

“[The authors'] accounts, written first in lesson books and then on computer have been skillfully put together in a narrative, each boy carrying both history and that of their joint flight and reunion forward. The result is both fascinating and immediate, not least because of the guilelessness of the language and the particularly African use of metaphor and imagery….They Poured Fire…conjures up a world of marabou storks, acacia trees, termite mounds taller than men, scorpions and snakes that move in the dark, a world governed by traditions, rituals, seasons, weather, and obligations.”—New York Review of Books

“[T]ender and lyrical…one of the most riveting stories ever told of African childhoods—and a stirring tale of courage….Anyone interested in Africa, its children or the human will to survive should read this book. This beautifully told volume…will remain on my desk for years to come.”—Washington Post

“[L]ovely and unusual….[V]ital stories…that can help readers understand events in Sudan on a human level. But They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky is no mere historical document; it is a wise and sophisticated examination of the arbitrary cruelties and joys of being alive.”—Star Tribune

“[T]he book is at once an important addition to the contemporary dialog on world affairs and a surprisingly lyrical account of coming of age under adverse conditions… These folkloric memories—replete with lions and circumcision rituals—describe a world centuries removed from the high-tech industrialization of Western society. But they years of war also have bestowed wisdom, and simple observations of childhood are seen now through different eyes…” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“[The book] represent[s] genuine, heartfelt examples of what war does to young people and how they may adjust to life outside the country of their birth, especially the social and intellectual problems they experience.”—Deseret Morning News

“In a harrowing account of the war, three young refugees in California… remember how they were driven from their homes in Southern Sudan in the ethnic and religious conflicts that have left two million dead. They tell their stories quietly with the help of their mentor, coauthor Judy Bernstein, in clear, interwoven, narratives that put a personal face on statistics.”—Booklist

“[W]ell written, often poetic essays…this collection is moving in its descriptions of unbelievable courage.” —Publisher's Weekly

Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.12(w) x 5.42(h) x 0.74(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Meet the Author

Alephonsion and Benson Deng, and their cousin Benjamin Ajak were relocated from the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya to the United States as part of an international refugee relief program. They arrived in 2001. Now all in their mid-twenties, Benjamin, Benson, and Alephonsion live in San Diego, California.

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They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book over a year ago and I still can't stop thinking about it from time to time - especially in today's times when Africa's troubles continue to go on. It shows how this world needs to focus on humanitarian issues and quit sticking our heads in the sand. I recommend this book to anyone who asks me what they should read.
dance0218 More than 1 year ago
After reading this book for my AP English class, I was amazed by the means and lengths these boys were forced to go to for any hope of survival. Throughout the book , I found that I had to constantly remind myself just how young these boys were as the challenges and situations they faced would be difficult for a grown adult. I highly recommend this story for all, and while it is not an emotionally easy read, it is very eye opening what some people are forced to live through. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I remember in 10th grade we were told to do u book report from a selected amount of books. I was the last one to choose nd this book was the only one left. Best book i have ever read. I recommend this book to everyone. Incredible book. Extremely moving.
ItsmeTy More than 1 year ago
Before reading this book, I didn't know very much about the conflict in Sudan. The three personal accounts are very emotional. I think that people everywhere should read it, especially teenagers.
Richie1 More than 1 year ago
When the war began in Sudan between government troops and the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, people ran for their lives. Among them, the three boys contributing their stories in this book. They witnessed family and friends murdered, they suffered starvation, illness, and abuse. They walked, seemingly forever through the bush harboring wild animals, desert areas, and disease infested waterways to find some refuge. They spent years in refugee camps with no promise for a future, then finally a place in America opened up for them. The intensity of the pain they suffered can not be measured by the words in this book, and it's a miracle they survived, many didn't. The story is a tribute to the strength of their spirits.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
¿They Poured Fire on us From the Sky¿ is a book about three of the Lost Boys from the Sudan War. The story goes with three young boys (Alephonsion Deng, Benson Deng, and Benjamin Ajak) on their journeys through the Sudan wars. The boys go through many hardships; thirst, hunger, and even death of ones close to them. This book really illustrates the pain these boys had to go through traveling from town to town, to escape the cruelty that was the Sudan War. Major themes of this book were loss and loneliness. Loss is really an obvious theme for a book about war, but this book puts it in the perspective of three young boys, which makes the pain of their loss much more real. These boys mention many times how they feel lonely, and how they miss their families. Throughout the book they lose the each other, which inflicts a lot of worry and loneliness on the boys. What I really liked about this book was the realness of the issues the boys were going through. The fact that it¿s told through three young boy¿s perspective, it makes the story more relatable, and really tugs on your heartstrings. The boys get under your skin and really make you feel the pain they went through. If I had to pick one thing I didn¿t like about this book, it would be how they skip around with who is telling the story, one chapter it¿s Alephosion, then Benson, then Benjamin. It makes it hard to keep track of what is going on in each boy¿s life. If you are looking for a powerful true story of perseverance and fighting for your life, this is the book for you. This book really makes you thankful for everything you have. These boys have lost everything they had; they had to flee in an effort to save their lives resulting in nothing. Out of a 10 I would rate this book a 9.5. This is one of my favorite books I have ever read, and I highly recommend it to anyone!
christina delfs More than 1 year ago
Changed me forever
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EllenBrownBird More than 1 year ago
A MIND-NUMBING BUT NECESSARY READ, February 17, 2010 By Ellen Brown (San Diego, CA USA) - See all my reviews As one who is seldom at a loss for words, I am finding it very difficult to absorb the contents of this book and write about the effect it has had on me. This cruel, naked, poignant, impossible story of the Lost Boys journey through hell sounds more like a Hollywood screenplay than the recollections of real little boys. Were it a Hollywood script, no studio would buy it because the story is too horrific and grotesque to be believable. Unfortunately for the book's subjects it was all too true. Fortunately for us, they have chosen to share their memories with us so that we may begin to grasp the severity and horror of their journey. They've done the world a great service in doing so. I can only hope that the sharing in some ways helps their healing. This book is all at once gripping, repulsive and mesmerizing. I often found the content beyond my comprehension. For little boys to be ripped from their families to wander aimlessly, ill and starving, dodging bullets, encountering wild beasts who would have gladly eaten them for dinner, and to be at the mercy of the desert sun--often without water-- is a fate one would not wish on an animal. I imagine few of us have spent even mere moments of our lives knowing the terror that was these boys reality for years. I must admit I was unaware of the extent of the Sudanese holocaust, and for that I am ashamed. I know this book has raised awareness and for that I thank the author, Judy Bernstein, for recognizing the need to tell this story and for the hard work of getting it done. To Benson, Alephonsion and Benjamin, I hope you are still able to love and trust in a world where it would be completely understandable if you were not. There are good people among us and I'm thankful your journey brought you to Judy and to San Diego. I hope you are finding some measure of happiness here. I wish you long life and peace.
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JR3085 More than 1 year ago
It was astonishing, the idea of my walking across the city let alone the country of Sudan like these young men have is inconceivable. Not to mention the odds of survival that they faced, whether it be with the city dwellers trying to take advantage of them, or wild animals of the jungle trying to have them for lunch. Hard to put down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this for a book club. I probably would have never chosen this book on my own, but I'm glad I read it. We were all amazed at the tenacity and fortitude of these young boys. As a mother, I can't imagine what it must have been like to need to send your children away, hopefully to safety, knowing that you would most likely never see them again. It was hard to keep the names straight, but it didn't take long to figure out that it just wasn't necessary - it was just one long story of misery, a bit of hope, and then dashed hopes, over and over again. I think it's important to know that there are innocent young people in our world who are victims of political tumult.
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YendorRM More than 1 year ago
Barnes and Noble is such a great place to go to have coffee and enjoy a great book. The atmosphere is inviting to talk wiht friends or listen to music as you enjoy reading. The availability of Wi-Fi is a definite plus.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've studied a lot on the crisis on Darfur and in Southern Sudan, and this is one of the best memoirs I have read. The stories of these three boys are extremely moving and truly move the heart.