Portland, Maine’s Sudanese Community Featured in New Novel for Teens

Posted in Author / Illustrator Research, Sudan, Sudanese American

“This is a story of courage – not just Viola’s, but of all immigrants.”  —Finding Wonderland

Author Terry Farish has just released The Good Braider, a young adult novel woven from her relationships with the Sudanese community in Portland, Maine, but also from her work with refugees and immigrants from Vietnam, Cambodia, and other countries at the  NH Humanities Council literacy program Connections.

“The fictional process is full of connections,” says Terry Farish, “that become intertwined as the storyline and structure take shape.”

In spare free verse laced with unforgettable images, Viola’s strikingly original voice sings out the story of her family’s journey from war-torn Sudan, to Cairo, and finally to Portland, Maine. Here, in the sometimes too close embrace of the local Southern Sudanese Community, she dreams of South Sudan while she tries to navigate the strange world of America – a world where a girl can wear a short skirt, get a tattoo or even date a boy; a world that puts her into sharp conflict with her traditional mother who, like Viola, is struggling to braid together the strands of a displaced life.

Terry Farish’s haunting novel is not only a riveting story of escape and survival, but the universal tale of a young immigrant’s struggle to build a life on the cusp of two cultures.

“As I built relationships with new friends in Portland from Sudan, I wanted to write about teens and the dance they were learning as they became both American and Sudanese,” says Farish, “Or -as Viola in the novel says – she is neither, anymore. She’s creating something brand new as she combines her two cultures.”

While Terry Farish is writing outside of her culture, she is writing inside the lives of people she knows, respects, and has permission from to use their life stories as threads in a braided work of fiction.

“I explained to elders in the community that I wanted to write a book about the teens as they made their homes in Maine,” says author Terry Farish, “The elders very much wanted this story to be told and shared their experience and struggles with me.”

But does what Terry Farish built from the elders’ and teenagers’ true stories ring true as fiction?  The reviewers, so far, say, “yes.”

“Do I have to state that Farish is a White author because really, it’s just that she’s a talented storyteller,” says blogger Edith Campbell at Crazy QuiltEdi, “She did her research: learned the food, languages and nuanced life not only in Sudan but of Sudanese immigrants in Maine. We’re told a story that relates the human search for identity when so much is lost while basic, common human dignity remains intact. Her characters are real people and their story is quite affecting. In the same way that Keji artistically weaves the braids, Farish weaves the words.”

Here is to fine weaving across all cultures.