The Good Braider by Terry Farish Reviewed By Paige Tucker

“When it’s dark and the power has gone off, my mother presses something hard into my palm. I can’t see it but she says it’s a bit of elephant one she found among the stones farther north on the Nile. “It’s good luck,” she says. ‘No animal can kill the elephant.’”

Elephants have long been a symbol of luck, courage and power. Terry Farish delicately weaves this symbolism into her protagonist Viola in her evocative novel The Good Braider. Viola, a young teenage girl from Sudan, must go on a journey that many of us would never have the strength to face.

Having read many other novels about genocide, war and suffering (wow I need to lighten up my reading interests) what intrigued me the most about Viola was how incredibly attached you get to her in the 213 pages of her journey from Sudan to America.

Beginning with the very first few pages, Viola encounters violence in war torn Southern Sudan that is almost implausible for the reader to imagine. The novel, written in delicate prose, captures the juxtaposition of the violence in a country savaged by war and the beauty of Sudan’s culture, land and people. Once Viola and her mother make it safely to America, (after suffering a gut-wrenching loss that will crush your own heart), Viola must learn to adjust to life in a place where opportunity is abound and choices are limitless.

As Americans, we often take these choices for granted. This is the way it has always been for us. As Sudan natives, with their own cultural rules and traditions, Viola and her mother, have never faced so many decisions. Viola has a deep desire and yearning to go to school. Her mother, not understanding this desire, and still grieving from loss, struggles with letting her daughter live a life free in America. Eventually, her mother makes a decision that takes their journey to America in an entirely different and difficult direction.

But as Terry Farish reminds us in her exquisite language, elephants while they are strong and brave, also symbolize deep loyalty and devotion.  In The Good Braider, Viola learns that these may be her and her people’s greatest virtues.

 

Paige Tucker is a 6th grade English teacher in Chesterfield, VA. When she’s not reading or teaching, she dabbles in free-lance writing and an amusing attempt to write a novel. You can find her at her blog http://therelevantenglishteacher.blogspot.com/.