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War Child: A Child Soldier's Story

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  1,910 ratings  ·  156 reviews
In the mid-1980s, Emmanuel Jal was a seven year old Sudanese boy, living in a small village with his parents, aunts, uncles, and siblings. But as Sudan’s civil war moved closer—with the Islamic government seizing tribal lands for water, oil, and other resources—Jal’s family moved again and again, seeking peace. Then, on one terrible day, Jal was separated from h
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published February 3rd 2009 by St. Martin's Press (first published 2009)
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An at-times horrifying read, but in the end a truly inspiring biography and a great portrayal of the awful ways war affects children and young adults.

"War Child" is not for someone inclined to freak out at explicit descriptions of violence and misery, or famine-level poverty, hatred (at times racial hatred) and frustration. Jal has lived through a lot and here he does not shy away from describing any of it, from the blood and guts to the racial tension and hatred.

Jal was a child soldier with the
Puoch Dit
I feel the same way when I read the previews of Emmanuel Jal or Jal in short in Nuer language book. I knew it has been a long journey toward the peace process in Sudan, but hope is what generate me days and nights for my 21 years of waiting for the peace to pop up in Sudan, which indeed happened in 2005. As a former child soldier myself, I knew how hard it is to live and go through the process of bad things. I couldn't agree more on Jal is reflections on those things that happened to him during ...more
Jun 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
A first person account from one of the Lost Boys of Sudan that will leave you saddened, yet hopeful. Emmanuel Jal truly explemplifies the resiliency of the human spirit and how one never knows how we can affect the lives of those we meet. Jal provides very vivid and detailed accounts of the atrocities of war and the disturbing way young children are trained to become soldiers. As much as this book broke my heart, it also reminded me that there are so many areas in our world where people, especia ...more
Dec 28, 2014 rated it liked it
A great memoir about a child soldier in Sudan. I liked the story although I was horrified, sad and angry for Jal throughout many parts of the book & couldn't imagine facing the challenges he endured. I felt like the first half of the book was a much stronger and enjoyable read than the second (If 3.5 stars were an option, I probably would've chosen it), however, overall I enjoyed the story which is inspirational. ...more
sydney kueber
Oct 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
see my Blog on War Child at: or go to

In the last several years there have been a number of books about the horrors of child soldiers and the horrors occurring in various parts of Africa, including the best seller A Long Way Gone by Ishamael Beah (Sierra Leone), Emma’s War by Deborah Scroggins, and What Is the What by David Eggers.

Now comes one from Emmanuel Jal, one of the Lost Boys of the Sudan. It is excellent and deserves a wide audie
Nov 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Trupti Dorge
Jun 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nicole (Reading Books With Coffee)
This was interesting. I've heard of the Lost Boys, but other than hearing the name, I didn't know anything about them.

I liked seeing what things were like for him, and how his life was changed because of what he's been through. I can't even begin to imagine what things were like for him...betrayal, being forced to fight, and starvation don't seem to cover half of what being a child soldier entailed. It was inspiring to see him go from child soldier to being a successful singer.

I'm glad I read
Jun 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't have the background in Sudanese (and regional) history to judge the veracity of everything in this book, but even if it was only 1/2 true, it would still be an astonishing story.

I haven't had much luck reading autobiographical books lately, so it was nice to finally finish one that was good.
Wendy Butler
Jul 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Such a good book. Having met Mr. Jal I was already impressed, but his insightful writing and his ability to be both genuine and introspective about the lessons of war are tremendous.
Nigel Kotani
Aug 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Emmanuel Jal came to my attention just before WOMAD 2019 when I was checking out the festival's online playlist. On hearing his track, Ti Chuong, I marked him down as one of my 'must see' artists. I was also intrigued by discovering that he'd been a child soldier in South Sudan, a place where I'd had some business dealings - somewhat improbably I'm the person who chose the name White Nile Ltd for the company that was supposed to become the state oil company - so when I saw that, as well as his m ...more
Jun 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-i-ve-read
3.5 stars.
I have known of Emmanuel Jal for several years now and have been wanting to read this and see his documentary. I did see his acting in The Good Lie as well when it came out. I finally got the book. It was really a lot to take in and was very good. I loved learning his story and feeling what he feels while reading it. I can't imagine the hardships within his mind that he suffers still to be exposed to such painful things early on in life (my dad has PTSD from being in war, but to suffer
Aug 27, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

“Excitement rushed into my veins as I sang. I was a soldier now. I could sleep with one eye open and stop myself from crying out even when I was beaten until p!ss and sh!t ran out of me. I knew there were eleven ways to attack a town; how to open, fuse, and throw a grenade; how to load and fire an AK-47; how to raise a machete and hack at an enemy or use stones as a weapon when my bullets ran out. There was nothing to be afraid of.”

This all sounds intense enough, but considering these are the wo
Jeffrey Chuang
Aug 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Simon Ackroyd
Jan 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
My wife met Jal at a conference. He told some of his story on stage and it made her tearful, so she insisted on meeting him afterwards and he wrote a lovely message to both of us in a copy of 'War Child' that we cherish.

During a gap year in 1999, I taught several former Sudanese fighters in a school in North West Kenya. Some were much older than me, had wives and children back in Sudan and one had cut the markings into his cheeks and forehead described in this book; I remember the younger Kenyan
Max Cohen
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An eye opening first hand account of the war that ripped apart Sudan in the 1980s. Emmanuel Jal puts his experience as a child soldier into words. He describes the pain, misery, and hardship that was his childhood and the recovery that led him to his life today. This book had many great lessons such as the value of friendship, and the power of hope. The imagery was superb and aided in the delivery of the story. Symbolism and metaphors were also prominent throughout the book. However the word cho ...more
Melissa Enderle
Aug 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A powerful story written by a child soldier from Sudan. Although the horrors Jal faced were very honestly and graphically described, this story is also one of redemption. Despite the evil that Jal and so many children got sucked into, there were many heroes who saw the potential within this very scarred individual, personally sacrificing so that he would receive opportunities. It was especially touching to see the transformation of Jal. What power kindness, the Gospel, and music can have on an i ...more
Kathryn Aitken
Jan 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Unbelievable. This is an important book to read. GO to his webiste and see how Emmanuel Jal is using his horrific experiences to create a positive change. He is an amazing public speaker...if you have the chance to go and see him, you should do it. If you have high school age children, contact your school to see about having him come and do a presentation for the students.
Meghan Geary
Sep 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Stunning. Jal is a survivor, a poet, a wordsmith, a miracle. His message is layered and powerful. I have always been fascinated and inspired by the stories of Sudan’s civil wars and the “lost boys” but it’s been a long while since I’ve read about it. I’m astonished by his love and resilience and honesty here, and by the way he’s told his story in such beautiful, brutal and evocative prose.
Nov 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
It's surreal to listen to this book and then look up Emmanuel and his sister on Instagram, kind of how one might feel looking up a Holocaust survivor on Instagram. Such an important, horrifying book. I have nothing but respect for Emmanuel and how he survived and I'm so glad he is willing to tell his story, even the most painful parts.
May 11, 2020 added it
I don't really know that I could put how I feel about this book into words. This is one of the heavier books that I've read and I don't really feel that it would be appropriate to give a star rating as I don't rate biographies. It just feels really weird to me to rate somebody's life. I highly recommend this to anybody who wants to have a first-hand account of the life of a child soldier.
Richard Summerbell
Sep 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is worth reading not just because of the topical story it contains, or its interesting and sympathetically appealing author, but also because it shows the mysterious turnaround of inspiration that transmutes hate to love. People on social media tell us every day, with cynical rasp, that that doesn't happen. Read all about it and see.
Mar 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: review
When child is a soldier then something is very wrong with our world ... Emmanuel’s childhood was constant battle of survival. Growing up with many scars in his soul, he managed to escape, to control his anger/hate, and find his voice in music.
Apr 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Quite a captivating read and interesting to learn how he overcame his challenges. I would say that it doesn't read like a typical 'overcoming hard-times' bibliography, but I think the reader should take this into account.
Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
A moving story about a Lost Boy of Sudan who then uses music to help his country heal.
Saira R
Jul 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Such a disturbing, brave, honest, inspiring and brilliant story.
Julie LaRock
Mar 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Grabbed this while chasing my toddler at the library. Hard, sad read, but also had hope despite the pain this young man endured. I appreciated his honesty and loved that he found peace with God.
Cristian Aldama
Dec 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I liked how it talks about war but one thing I want to know if it can be longer than it is so we can read it more or be more into it. It interesting and has a lot of action into it. Awesome book.
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Emmanuel Jal has no fixed record of when, exactly, he was born, but he is fairly sure that he was about seven years old when he was recruited as a child soldier in his native Sudan. He didn't need much persuading to join: three years previously, his father, a police officer, disappeared at the onset of the country's second civil war (raging from 1983 to, despite the 2005 peace agreement, this very ...more

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