South Sudan is the world’s youngest country, gaining its independence from the the Republic of the Sudan in 2011. With impressive speed, editor Nyuol Lueth Tong released this collection of short stories by South Sudanese authors in 2013. With a thoughtful introduction, seven stories, and a poem, the volume comes in at a slim 96 pages, readable in a day. It’s well worth the time. In his intro, Tong highlights that “fiction and poetry can provide a sense of place that readers would otherwise have never been able to imagine” and grapples with the challenge of defining South Sudanese literature in a country with “more than sixty languages” and significant groups of people practicing “local belief systems” along with Islam and Christianity.
The stories provide a lovely, varied picture of the country. In Samuel Garang Akau’s “Light of Day,” we enjoy the playful, awkward back-and-forth of young love in a refugee camp. In Nyuol Lueth Tong’s compelling story “The Bastard,” we see the other end of love, as a woman rejected by the father of her child is pushed into desperate circumstances. John Oryem’s “Potato Thief” may resonate with many readers who told the truth as children, only to be disbelieved and punished for a minor crime they didn’t commit (like the A-Team but in a potato patch). Taban Lo Liyong’s “Lexicographicide” reminds us that fiction is not ethnography with a perplexing, enjoyable, fantastical story about a state-issued dictionary, someone’s diary entries, and “a man who used to dodge taxes by behaving as if he was mad.”