65 pages 2 hours read

Linda Sue Park

A Long Walk to Water

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2010

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

The middle-grade novel A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park follows the life of one of the Lost Boys from South Sudan during the Second Sudanese Civil War. Based on a true story, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published the bestselling novel in 2010, and Park later wrote a companion picture book, Nya’s Long Walk. The story follows Salva Dut, based on a family friend of Park’s, who is chased from his village and family by militants at age 11. He becomes a “Lost Boy” of Sudan and completes many dangerous treks to refugee camps before being adopted into an American family. Salva’s narrative parallels that of Nya, an 11-year-old Nuer girl who walks eight hours a day to retrieve life-saving water for her family. This guide references the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2010 Scribd version of the novel.

Content Warning: This study guide and the source text contain depictions of war and violence.

Plot Summary

The book opens with Salva daydreaming during Arabic class. Jolted back to reality by gunfire, Salva obeys his teachers, who direct the children not to run back home to their villages but to run for the bush instead. Throughout most of the novel, Salva and the companions he meets along the way always move away from the sounds of armies. The young boys fear losing their lives and being forced to fight in this Second Sudanese Civil War.

Salva first joins a group of internally displaced refugees who soon abandon him as he sleeps in a barn. However, he then meets an older woman from his tribe, the Dinka, who feeds him peanuts. When the fighting gets too close and the Dinka woman flees, Salva begins traveling with a group of Dinka headed for a refugee camp.

One day, his Uncle Jewiir meets up with the group. He is a member of the rebel forces and carries a rifle. For these reasons, he becomes the leader of the travelers. He teaches Salva the most important lesson of the book—that you can get through even horrible, painful things by setting small goals.

Salva experiences many horrors as he walks, swims, and canoes from camp to camp. His friend Marial is dragged away from the camp by lions one night, and Salva witnesses many men dying of dehydration in the desert. The Nuer, a rival tribe, attacks the group and kills Uncle Jewiir. After the travelers make it to a refugee camp, soldiers force them into a crocodile-infested river, where thousands die.

Salva’s experiences all give him a philanthropic spirit, and after learning English from an Irish aid at one refugee camp, Salva is adopted by an American family in Rochester, New York, and goes to junior college. While in America, Salva learns that his father is alive, and he travels to a Sudanese hospital to see him. His father is recovering from a water-borne illness and tells Salva that most of his family survived the war, but Salva can’t visit them because he would risk being impressed into service.

On returning to New York, Salva travels to schools, telling his story and raising money for his charitable project. After a few years, he raises enough money to return to Sudan and dig wells for the impoverished villages there. This is where Salva and Nya’s stories intersect, as Nya’s narrative describes her struggle to carry water to her family each day and explains how her younger sister gets very ill from drinking the polluted water. Nya’s conflict is resolved when a group of men come to drill a well for her village, and the leader of the well-drillers is Salva.

The novel explores many themes, including perseverance as a “long walk” that involves focusing on smaller steps to achieve a larger goal. The importance of family also appears frequently, as Salva desperately longs for his family, and Nya risks her health to provide water for her family.

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