“Slave: My True Story”

Anyone who thinks that slavery went the way of the nineteenth century will be disabused of that belief when reading “Slave: My True Story.” Written by Mende Nazer, a Sudanese Nuba, along with Damien Lewis, the British journalist, this book gives a chilling overview of the modern slave trade from the perspective of one who was victimized by it. Human trafficking, unfortunately, is alive and well as a weapon of war in the late twentieth and twenty-first century.

Much of the horror of the book lies in the contrasts that Ms. Nazer lives through, from hope to despair. Ms. Nazer starts out the book by describing her idyllic childhood, which would almost seem like a lullaby romanticizing the pastoral life if it were not for the shadow that crosses the book. From the first scene, you know what will be coming at some point. Ms. Nazer recounts this childhood and the reader is shown what is stolen from her.

When Ms. Nazer is around twelve years old, Arab raiders sack her village and sell her into slavery. She then becomes the “property” of a family in Khartoum. What came across as particularly chilling to me was the banal and indifferent abuse that she received at her master’s hands, a Sudanese Arab woman named Rahab. Her master is a tyrant who mostly chooses to see Ms. Nazer as something less than human. In this personal interchange, the crystallization of Arab racism towards black is magnified to an explosive extent. A critic may say, well, blacks are sometimes racist too. But in this situation, it shows that racism can be most evil when one has the most power.

Rahab embodies this despotic bully in the flippant way that she distributes her cruelty to Ms. Nazer. She mentally tortures the young adolescent by sometimes throwing her a crumb of kindness. Stolen from the family who loved her, stranded in a city where she knows no one, Ms. Nazer grasps to the only family she knows. Rahab appears to be willing to exploit this need, and from what Ms. Nazer describes, knows very well what she is doing. Everyday exchanges become ominous clouds of prejudice. From what Ms. Nazer describes, it becomes easy to see how an everyday person can contribute to the most evil of regimes.

The source of victory in this story ultimately becomes Ms. Nazer herself. It does not give away anything in the book to say that she eventually becomes a free individual in England. How she goes from subjugated slave in Khartoum to this ultimate triumph is a testament of resolve, and a strong will that refuses to give up hope.

“Slave” is a testament that personalizes an evil that seems too far away to pay attention to. It shows the humanity of an enslaved individual, and what she does to preserve it in the face of being dehumanized. The ultimate victory is that no evil can truly destroy the human spirit, if only one is willing to fight to preserve that spirit. Ms. Nazer’s memoir is a treatise of how human evil still exists in its most perverse forms, but human resiliency and love is as well.