Little Brother, by Ibrahima Balde (co-written with Amets Arzallus Antia and solidly translated by Timberlake Wertenbaker) is an account of the author’s epic journey across North Africa to find his younger brother. Balde is the oldest son in his family which, after his father suddenly dies when Balde was a young teenager, makes him the primary breadwinner for his mother, two sisters, and little brother. In brief chapters, Balde tells us how he tried to support his family and then, when that little brother tries to make it to Europe, how Balde went after that brother to try and bring him back home.
Balde is not an ambitious person. He is relatively content to find work as a trucker’s apprentice with the long haulers who crisscross Guinea (where Balde is from), Liberia, and Sierra Leone. But when he gets a call that his brother has gone north in an attempt to get to Europe to make a living for the family, Balde takes it upon himself to try and follow. This leaves Balde’s mother and two sisters alone at their farm in the Guinean countryside, but what else can Balde do? He pulls together as much money as he can and follows his brother’s trail.
I was astounded to read about Balde’s journey. More than once, Balde has to walk for miles in the Sahara between towns. And it’s not just the elements that might kill Balde. At one point, Balde is captured by a group of Tuareg who enslave him. After that, Balde is on the run from them as well as trying to keep himself alive in the desert. There are a few kind people in the desert who help Balde and other migrants along the way, but there are so many migrants and refugees that they can only do so much. Between the kind ones and the slavers, there are those who will help migrants and refugees get further north…for a price. When he meets a new person, Balde is gambling on whether or not that new person wants to help him, bilk him, or enslave him.
Balde packs so much into the very short chapters of Little Brother. In those brief paragraphs, Balde shows us his love for his family, his determination, and his phenomenal inner strength. Balde does an impressive amount with remarkably few words, words that put us on Balde’s shoulder as he walks all those miles to look for his little brother. Readers who love reading inspirational stories or tales of hardship will enjoy this one.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration.