A Long Walk to Water

by Linda Sue Park

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

A Long Walk to Water is a historical fiction novel by Linda Sue Park. Park is herself the daughter of immigrants, and she lives in Rochester, New York, where she encountered the inspiration for protagonist Salva Dut.

The novel tells the story of two characters whose childhoods are separated by 25 years. At first glance, their lives are distinct from each other; however, they are both children who came of age with the background of the Sudanese Civil War (which ravaged the country from 1985 to 2005). In broad strokes, the civil war was the result of continued strife between the Muslim, Arabic-speaking northerners and Christian, English-speaking southerners of Sudan. The civil war resulted in the independence of South Sudan, and in addition to the death of nearly two million people, the displacement of about twenty thousand "Lost Boys," who travelled on foot to Ethiopia and Kenya in search of safety. Many of those who did survive were permanently severed from their families and homeland.

The first of two protagonists, Salva Dut, is one such Lost Boy. His story is told as he travels with a band of others, many of whom are killed by the severe conditions or by animal attacks. Eventually, after many casualties, Salva makes his way to a refugee camp; later, he comes to America. As an adult, he reunites with his father and establishes Water for South Sudan, an organization to bring water to his native country.

The parallel story is that of Nya, an eleven-year-old girl growing up in Sudan in 2008. She routinely walks to the pond to fetch water for her family. She spends the majority of her day walking, often making several trips and pausing only to eat. Nya has a sister, Akeer, who is sickly and so needs water desperately. By the end of her story, Nya's town has a new well, and her father is involved in building a school, where Nya rejoices that she will learn to read and write. Nya meets Salva at the novel's end, as she is the recipient of his efforts on behalf of his native Sudan.

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