The Bite of the Mango Summary

Mariatu Kamara

The Bite of the Mango

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The Bite of the Mango Summary

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The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara and Susan McClelland is a young adult memoir that recounts the horrors of Mariatu’s experience as a victim of Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war in the 1990s.

Mariatu’s childhood ends abruptly at age twelve, when she is raped by a trusted family friend. Not long after, as she and her family set out for some errands at a neighboring village, rebel soldiers intercept them and her life is forever changed. She watches in horror as her family members are murdered in front of her. Expecting death herself, Mariatu is shocked when the rebel soldiers, many children themselves, instead choose to chop off her hands. Though she begs for death instead, they insist on amputation, telling her: “We want you to go to the president and show him what we did to you. You won’t be able to vote for him now. Ask the president to give you new hands.”

Amputation was the signature crime of the rebel forces in Sierra Leone. There are several theories as to the reason why amputation was so prevalent. One is that the President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, elected in 1996 and utilized the slogan “The future is in your hands.” Many victims, like Mariatu, were told to present their amputations to their president, and told they could not vote for him again. Estimates of victims of amputation in the civil war approach 20,000.

She makes her way to hospital in Freetown, and on the way is offered a bit of mango, her first food after her attack. While eating the food confirms her will to live, it also highlights the difficulties ahead of her but also her tireless spirit. While the person who offers the mango attempts to put it in her mouth, Mariatu insists on holding it with her arms. The reality of the struggle ahead is made evident, but so is her desire to persevere. While she receives care at the hospital, she also discovers that her rape left her pregnant.

After leaving the hospital, she is moved to an amputee camp, where she is reunited with family members who have also lost limbs. While there, she is forced to beg for several years to survive. While at the camp she gives birth to a son, who dies months later of malnutrition. She suffers bouts of depression and considers ending her life, but is watched over by the family with whom she reunited. She begins to deal with and overcome some of depression by joining a theater group that performed pieces based on Sierra Leone’s struggles. Through performance and community, she begins to heal.

While in the camp, Mariatu is interviewed by foreign journalists and her struggle made known to an international audience. Through this attention, she was given sponsorships and opportunities abroad. First, this took the form of a trip to England to be fitted for prosthetic hands, which were gifted to her. Unfortunately, neither the prosthetics nor the country suit her and she returns to Sierra Leone, still unable to find a home until a Canadian named Bill asks after her after seeing her story and picture in an article. In 2002, at the age of 14, Mariatu flies to Toronto and eventually gets placed with a Sierra Leonean couple. She feels pressure to support her family back in Africa, and therefore focuses on getting an education.

Though she initially struggles with schooling and learning English, she eventually acclimates and is able to attend college and works as a UNICEF Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflicts.

Mariatu writes now as a resilient young woman who has come to terms with the horrific events of her past. Regarding the child soldiers who injured her and killed her family members, she states: “At first I felt only anger: I wanted those four boys dead. But the anger made me sick, and over time I saw that taking a life was not the solution. They were kids, like me who’d got caught up in something beyond their control.”

As the book ends, Mariatu is reunited with her grandmother, who says: “I wish a spell could have stopped the attack on you. But you have turned your hurt and pain into something positive. When those demons reappear, think about all the angels who have come into your life since then.”

Mariatu, though focused on her studies, is also dedicated to bettering the lives of her countrymen and others effected by political violence. Throughout her story she displays an intense resilience and desire to help others. As the book closes, she says she “… will speak for all the people of Sierra Leone who are not being heard.”

Aimed at mature young readers, The Bite of the Mango gives a heart-wrenching personal account of the human cost of war on the countless young people in war-torn countries, and one woman’s road to recovery and humanitarianism.