Understanding Sudan: The Best Books on Sudanese History to Today

Children in South Sudan, 2013/Photo © John Wollwerth/Shutterstock

The history of Sudan is filled with conflict, genocide, and tragedy. Near-constant tensions – largely driven by conflict between the Arab-Muslim majority and the Christian and indigenous religions in the minority – forced the African nation to finally split in 2011, creating the Republic of the Sudan in the North and the Republic of South Sudan in the south. Prior to the split, the country suffered through two brutal civil wars, the first from 1955 to 1972 and the second from 1983 to 2005.

The Second Sudanese Civil War resulted in the infamous Lost Boys of Sudan; more than 20,000 boys were orphaned and displaced following the massacres of their parents and families. North and South Sudan have continued to make international headlines since the beginning of the conflict in Darfur – a struggle that continues today and remains a humanitarian crisis in the region with hundreds of thousands dead from combat, slaughter, or starvation and millions displaced as a result of the war.

The Republic of the Sudan, more commonly known as either Sudan or North Sudan, was one of the seven Muslim majority countries banned from entry into the United States under President Trump’s January 27 Executive Order, an order that was highly contested and replaced by one just slightly narrower on March 6. The twelve books below, largely written by Sudanese authors, should provide insight into the varied culture of Sudan and the ongoing conflicts that have tragically defined the country for decades.

  • The cover of the book Season of Migration to the North

    Season of Migration to the North

    This novel from Sudanese author Tayeb Salih centers on a young man who, after years of study in Europe, returns to his village in Sudan in the 1960s. The narrator encounters a man, who much like himself studied abroad before returning to Sudan, and becomes caught in the beguiling story of the man’s life. Seasons of Migration to the North is a complex examination of colonialism and often considered one of finest Arabic novels of the twentieth century.

  • The cover of the book Lyrics Alley

    Lyrics Alley

    Set during the early days of Sudan’s independence in the 1950s, Lyrics Alley follows an affluent Sudanese family navigating the changing society/identity of the fledgling nation. Written by Leila Aboulela, born to Sudanese parents in Cairo and raised in Sudan, the novel examines the effects of growing modernization against the traditional customs of Sudanese society.

  • The cover of the book They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky

    They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky

    One of the many books and memoirs written about the Lost Boys of Sudan, They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky is the harrowing account of Benjamin Ajak, Alephonsion Deng, and Benson Deng. It is a story of survival set against a dangerous journey that covered nearly one thousand miles on foot as the three young boys sought refuge from a war that had upended their lives.

  • The cover of the book Cities Without Palms

    Cities Without Palms

    Written by Tarek Eltayeb, born to Sudanese parents in Cairo, Cities Without Palms explores the harsh realities of poverty in both the developing and developed worlds. The novel follows a young man named Hamza whose journey to provide for his family carries him from Egypt through France, Italy, and eventually Holland and illustrates the harsh conditions migrant workers are often subjected to.

  • The cover of the book Tears of the Desert

    Tears of the Desert

    A Memoir of Survival in Darfur

    Born into the Zaghawa Tribe in the Sudanese desert, Halima Bashir left her rural village for medical training before returning as the village’s first formal doctor. In this memoir, she recounts the violence and brutality that followed in the attacks on her tribe by the Janjaweed militias in early 2004, including the rape of forty-two schoolgirls, some as young as eight, and their teachers. It is a powerful tale of the human toll of the ongoing conflicts in Sudan.

  • The cover of the book The Translator

    The Translator

    A Memoir

    In this account of the genocide taking place in Darfur, Daoud Hari provides a firsthand chronicle of the brutality and danger defining the region. Forced from his Zaghawa village by militia attacks, Hari nonetheless chose to return to Darfur to offer his services as a guide and translator, putting his life at constant risk.

  • The cover of the book Slave: My True Story

    Slave: My True Story

    Mende Nazer was sold into slavery at the age of twelve following an attack on her village during the Second Sudanese Civil War – a tragically common fate for many women and girls during the Sudanese Civil Wars. Slave is the story of her enslavement and eventual escape to freedom.

  • The cover of the book War Child

    War Child

    Separated from his family as a young boy, Emmanuel Jal was eventually conscripted as one of 10,000 child soldiers in the Christian Sudanese Liberation Army. He was forced to fight in two civil wars before being adopted by a British aid worker and getting a second start at life – one that would turn out to incorporate music in a substantial way.

  • The cover of the book God Grew Tired Of Us

    God Grew Tired Of Us

    A Memoir

    As one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, John Bul Dau was forced into a fourteen-year journey beginning in 1987 that would lead him on a perilous trek to Ethiopia, back to Sudan, on to refugee camp in Kenya, and eventually the United States. Bul Dau recounts his experiences living in crowded refugee camps, the culture shock he experienced arriving in the U.S., and the joy of reuniting with his family. He and his wife – Martha Aruel Akech, who was also displaced as a child in Sudan – recount their story for young adult readers in Lost Boy, Lost Girl: Escaping Civil War in Sudan.

  • The cover of the book Sudan: Race, Religion, and Violence

    Sudan: Race, Religion, and Violence

    Delving deep into Sudan’s culture and history, Sudanese academic Jok Madut Jok explores the cultural tensions and factors that have contributed to the tumultuous and violent history of the country. Sudan: Race, Religion, and Violence weaves Jok Madut Jok’s insightful views of Sudanese culture with firsthand accounts of the nation’s ongoing strife.

  • The cover of the book Six Months in Sudan

    Six Months in Sudan

    A Young Doctor in a War-Torn Village

    In 2007, Dr. James Maskalyk, a physician with Doctors Without Borders, arrived in the border village of Abyei, Sudan. This memoir, which began as a blog, recounts his experiences in the war-torn region treating malnourished children, combating a measles epidemic, and all the while struggling against the war raging around him.

  • The cover of the book Saviors and Survivors

    Saviors and Survivors

    Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror

    With Saviors and Survivors, Mahmood Mamdani examines the crisis in Darfur in the context of history and the strain of international politics – notably the War on Terror – on the region. Mamdani argues that historical tribal conflicts and pressures from both the Sudanese Government and the International community, as well as interference from the West, have exacerbated the conflict in Darfur.