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In the tradition of Behind the Beautiful Forevers and Nothing to Envy, this is a masterful, humane work of literary journalism by New Yorker staff writer Alexis Okeowo--a vivid narrative of Africans, many of them women, who are courageously resisting their continent's wave of fundamentalism.In A Moonless, Starless Sky Okeowo weaves together four narratives that form a poweIn the tradition of Behind the Beautiful Forevers and Nothing to Envy, this is a masterful, humane work of literary journalism by New Yorker staff writer Alexis Okeowo--a vivid narrative of Africans, many of them women, who are courageously resisting their continent's wave of fundamentalism.In A Moonless, Starless Sky Okeowo weaves together four narratives that form a powerful tapestry of modern Africa: a young couple, kidnap victims of Joseph Kony's LRA; a Mauritanian waging a lonely campaign against modern-day slavery; a women's basketball team flourishing amid war-torn Somalia; and a vigilante who takes up arms against the extremist group Boko Haram. This debut book by one of America's most acclaimed young journalists illuminates the inner lives of ordinary people doing the extraordinary--lives that are too often hidden, underreported, or ignored by the rest of the world....

Title : A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa
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ISBN : 9780316382939
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 240 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa Reviews

  • Taryn
    2019-05-01 01:04

    Liberty, that precious, delicate right, is fleeting in so much of the world. Sometimes it is there for you to take and enjoy; other times it suddenly and violently disappears, as if it never existed in the first place. But there are always people who go looking for that freedom, even at personal risk. They are not only activists and vigilantes, but also ordinary people.Alexis Okeowo interviews citizens of four African countries to showcase acts of rebellion, both big and small. These courageous people of faith have seen their communities terrorized by extremist groups, but they refused to let those extremists determine their life's course.In A Moonless, Starless Sky, Okeowo brings faraway places into stark view. Through her objective eye, we are introduced to complex people who've survived extraordinary situations. Many people might not be familiar with the political situations of these countries, so she adds context by delving briefly into the histories of each nation and extremist group. This book's one big flaw is the structure. The book is divided into two parts; half of each story is in part one and the other half is in part two. That's easy enough to overcome though! I read the accounts by country rather than the order presented.UgandaThis is the story of two people who were abducted by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army as teens. After fifteen-year-old Eunice was abducted, she was forced to marry nineteen-year-old Bosco. What happens to these forced unions if the abductees escape and why do so many of these couples choose to stay together? How are the children of these marriages affected? Okeowo also explores the difficult relationships between the former child soldiers and the communities they may have been forced to harm. Most community members recognize the former child soldiers as victims too, but it's an understandably uncomfortable situation. What efforts are made to reintegrate them back into society and how do their neighbors handle their presence?More information: Former Ugandan child soldiers rebuild lives after years of terror (ABC Austrailia, October) | The Bizarre and Horrifying Story of the Lord's Resistance Army (The Atlantic, October 2011)MauritaniaMauritania became the last country to abolish slavery in 1981, but the government did little to actually eradicate the practice. Okeowo explains how slavery became such an accepted part of Mauritanian society and how demographic divisions contributed to its the practice's endurance. This section focuses on abolitionist Biram Dah Abeid's fight to end slavery in Mauritania, a crusade that has put him and his family in peril. What makes someone stand up for others, even at great risk to themselves? Okeowo also spends time with a woman Abeid helped rescue. Haby is one of the millions of people who were born into slavery. When she finally had the chance to escape in 2008 at the age of 34, she was insistent that she would never leave her owners. Captivity was all she had ever known. Through Haby's story, we learn how slaveowners are able to enslave people without chains and about the obstacles that arise when adjusting to sudden freedom.More information: Mauritania: Slavery's last stronghold (CNN/YouTube, 2012)/ Article | The abolitionist fighting to free Mauritania's slaves (2017) - Biram Dah Abeid's story | The Global Slavery Index 2016 - estimations of the number of people living in slavery today.Nigeria"Nobody rescued them," a Chibok government official said of the girls who made it back. "I want you to stress this point. Nobody rescued them. They escaped on their own accord."In recent years, Boko Haram has terrorized northern Nigeria and kidnapped thousands of boys and girls. Rebecca Ishaku was one of the hundreds of girls abducted from a boarding school in Chibok, Nigeria. This is an account of one young woman's risky escape and the enduring effects of terror. Okeowo also interviews a government clerk who refused to stand idle while his community was being relentlessly attacked by Boko Haram's members. Elder became a unit commander for the Civilian Joint Task Force, a volunteer group that sought to reclaim their communities from the terrorists when the government failed. The story of ordinary citizens fighting Boko Haram is remarkable, but issues arise when the behavior of some of the vigilantes begins to mirror the group they're fighting."God gave me the opportunity to think about my future, so I can't let them stop me from going back to school." - RebeccaMore information:  On Boko Haram front line, Nigerian vigilantes amass victories and power (Reuters, June 2017) | Boko Haram Fast Facts (CNN, September 2017) | Chibok girl 'happy' over schoolmates' release - interview with Rebecca (BBC, October 2016)Somalia“I see it as something very powerful, to be young and a woman in a country that is not safe and has gone through a lot of war, and to have a dream and wear pants and a shirt and hold a basketball—there’s nothing more powerful and strong to me,” Ilhan said. “To think about what I want for myself and to do it.”Aisha received her first death threat from terrorists when she was thirteen. Her supposed crime? Playing basketball. Somalia went from having one of the best women's basketball teams in the region to a place where it's unsafe for women to play sports at all. This is the story of young women who continue to play the game they love despite the risks. One thing I liked about this section was getting to see a different side of Somalia, like its vibrant nightlife.More information:  The Fight Over Women’s Basketball in Somalia by the author Alexis Okeowo (New Yorker, September 2017) | Who are Somalia's al-Shabab? (BBC, December 2016)What are the ethics of resisting? When extreme circumstances are forced upon a person, what is she allowed to do to survive? Can she commit apostasy as a religious person,  or kill a relative? The answers are complex, possibly unknowable. The idea of survival becomes hazy: It can mean more than just staying alive; it can mean leading the life she feels entitled to have. And in order to do that, the morals she was taught, that she has long lived by, could shift and mutate into something she no longer recognizes. They could shift because she believed she was fighting for good, or at least for her right to have a good, sane life, and, along the way, she had to resort to actions she would have never committed in her past life. They could shift because, when extreme circumstances overtook her life, subverted what she knew and held dear, resorting to radical measures was the only way to resist, and to live.These accounts of ordinary people trying to live their lives freely are both distressing and inspiring. Rebellion doesn't come without sacrifices and many of these people endured death threats, survived harrowing escapes, and/or remained steadfast against relentless outside pressure. In the face of adversity, these people stand firm in their beliefs and manage to preserve their autonomy. What I liked most about this book were the complete portraits of the interview subjects. Okeowo explores their flaws, hopes, and fears without judgment. They may not make the choices one would expect or that are easy for outsiders to understand, but they're all doing the best they can to live their lives of their own free will and/or cultivate a society where everyone can live freely. If you're possibly interested in this book, I recommend reading the author's article The Fight Over Women’s Basketball in Somalia to get a sense of her style.I received this book for free from Netgalley and Hachette Books. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. It's available now!

  • Ina Cawl
    2019-04-22 07:47

    As I read this book it dawned on me how my continent can be so beautiful and seductive to anyone who visit it but it also had another side which is dark and it could explain why many horrific things seems to happen only in AfricaThis book moves through four countries two eastern African countries and two western African countries This countries are Uganda Somalia Mauritania and Nigeria.Each of these countries have it is difficulties and obstacles but also brave activists who also tries to surpass those obstacles and hardships and improve their countries.In Uganda we read LRA which is Christian cult like terrorist group who abducts children and use them as soldiers in their fight against government.It is usually easy to condemn people who we call terrorist but if you tried to understand the circumstances which forced into taking arms you can at least partially understand themAs Uganda retook their freedom from Britain in 1960 the country was plunged into series of coups and in the latest coup in 1983 the tribes felt marginalised and then came Kony who persuaded-the northern tribes to take arms against the government but ironically when people turned their back on LRA, LRA started attacking the same people it said was protecting.Another I found interesting in the book was how society react to surrendered insurgents, I mean even after the government gave amnesty to insurgents most people could not accept them back and even after their rehabilitation, still people blamed them for the loss of their beloved sons and daughters and ironically the perpetrators of this crime are also victims since some of the insurgents are brainwashed teenagers who although their acts shocks you but you can’t stop feeling pity for them.In Mauritania we follow brave activist who was attacking the Slavery problems in the country.I wonder why people in my country and in other African countries associate fair skin and silky hair to superiority and why some think the more darker person the more eligible person is to be slaved.In Mauritania where minority tribes of Arab descendants control the state and still practiced Slavery.Mauritania was the last country to abolish slavery in the world and even after abolishing it, it was still used by the White moors.White Moors are tribes who came from Arabic descent or Berber Descent and although being minority they control most of the important parts in the country and practice caste like segregation in the country.Te fairer your skin the less difficulties you will face and just by the luck of being fair skin it can help in many ways.Islam and Slavery:- it seems although the faith encouraged it’s believers to free their slaves but the same faith is used to make case for slaving darker skin members of society.

  • Lynecia
    2019-04-24 01:50

    2.5 stars. *Review below*I was so absorbed by the personal stories of some of the people in Alexis Okeowo’s book, that more than once, I almost missed my stop on the subway whilst reading it. Her subjects traverse the continent -- Uganda in the East, Nigeria to the West; northward to Mauritania and Somalia in the Horn of Africa. Okeowo is a seasoned journalist, having moved to Uganda straight out of college to intern for a newspaper for a year - and she’s focused her beat on the continent ever since. The people she follows in her book are living through atrocities that most of us have learned about through the Western media - The LRA, (remember “Kony 2012”?), the Boko Haram kidnappings (#BringBackOurGirls), al-Shabbab (see: recent terror attacks in Mogadishu) and Arab enslavement of Black Africans in the deserts of the Sahel and Northern Africa. (I’d venture to say the West is less familiar with this scourge, but I digress. I recommend watching a 2009 Australian documentary called “Stolen”, if you can find it, for more on slavery in that part of the world). Her stated aim is to highlight the everyday ways that people living under religious extremism, terror and oppression choose to fight back, to resist, in ordinary ways. Okeowo was able to take those aforementioned atrocities, that have again, been filtered through the Western gaze and allowed the personal stories of the people who lived through them take center stage.While I enjoyed the stories, and some of the backstory she provided, I wish she spent more time crafting the narrative structure of the book. It seemed to jump around alot, and there were points that didn’t seem to gel, but seemed to be thrown in for narrative effect. (view spoiler)[ For example I also feel like a couple of these instances didn’t represent ordinary resistance. A young Somali girl who plays basketball, in the face of threats by the extremists on her life. That’s ordinary resistance, but in a couple of the stories her subjects were highly organized activists, who ran for political office. Again, nothing wrong with reading about their stories, but they didn’t fit the hypothesis. And lastly, the story of Eunice and Bosco from Uganda, didn’t apply at all. Yes, they chose to stay together after being forced together in the bush, but the author notes that those kind of unions, though frowned upon were not unique. And given the circumstances, the ostracization former LRA members faced coming home, the love story that the author tried to frame it as, seemed more like co-dependence.(hide spoiler)]Each piece on its own could have been a longform article - each of them moving and compelling. However compiled in a book, they don’t really fit with her central thesis of ordinary resistance in the face of terror. However, the stories are still worthy of being told. I’d recommend reading this just for those.

  • Sara-Jayne
    2019-04-21 23:55

    What a beautiful, eye opening collection of stories. This nonfiction book from Alexis Okeowo was impossible to put down. She effortlessly weaves together stories from four different countries in modern day Africa (Uganda, Mauritania, Nigeria, and Somalia), detailing atrocious experiences with frankness, simplicity, and above all humanity. She showcases the courage and resilience of everyday people, painting a picture of countries we usually only hear about through a very imperialistic lens. My own perception of Africa as a whole was radically challenged, and I'm positive that yours will be too. I found the set up of the book interesting and quite effective; part one details the first half of each story, ending on a cliffhanger, while part two picks up where each left off and concludes on a hopeful note. The subject matter is, of course, heavy (child soldiers, rape, military coups, slavery, Boko Haram, etc.), but Okeowo's style reflects her years as a successful journalist for the New Yorker; she does not linger on the gory details for sensationalism, but does her best to present an honest peek into the lives of African men and women from all around the continent.

  • Kimba Tichenor
    2019-05-01 03:49

    Too often in the American media, Africa is depicted as a continent marred by political extremism, poverty, and war crimes. And certainly all these things exist in Africa. But what this image does not capture is the resilience and everyday courage of the many ordinary men and women who envision for their countries and themselves a different path forward. In short, the image that too often emerges in the press is one that is devoid of humanity, of the every day actions of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events, and of the small acts of bravery that occur in the context of simply trying to do more than survive.The author sets out to tell these stories of resistance that too often go unnoticed, because they are not the stuff of headlines. Okeowo opens with the story of Eunice and Bosco, both of whom were abducted as chilren by the Lord Resistance Army in Uganda. As a young male, Bosco is forced to become a soldier in the LRA and must kill in order to avoid being killed. Eunice, kidnapped at 15, is given to Bosco as his "bush wife." When Eunice refuses to have sex with Bosco their first night together, he rapes her. And yet, they would choose to stay with each other, even once they escaped from the LRA. This "LRA love story" sets the tone for the book, showing that the truth is never as simple as we would imagine. The line between victim and perpetrator often not as clear as we would suppose. As like Eunice, Bosco was also a captive. And although he did rape her, he later risked his own life to save hers from the LRA. From Uganda, the story moves to Nigeria where she profiles Rebecca and Elder. Rebecca is an eighteen year old girl who is kidnapped along with hundreds of other girls by the extremist group Boko Haram, because she has the audacity to pursue an education. She escapes from her captors by jumping from a moving vehicle. Elder is a city clerk who in the face of inadequate government action, puts together a vigilante force to combat the insurgency.In Somalia, we meet Aisha, a young girl plays basketball despite repeated threats on her life and the torture and murder of a friend, whose only crime was also playing basketball. Yet, Aisha refuses to quit. And in Mauritania, we meet Biram, an anti-slavery campaigner, who burns several Islamic text used to justify slavery in the twenty-first century. The political backdrop against which these stories take place are too often ignored or under-reported by the American media. Worse yet, too few Americans know Africa's history. By putting a human face on conditions in Africa, hopefully it will prompt more Americans to learn the history of the world beyond their borders. Perhaps then, more will realize why it is so unacceptable for a US president to write off entire sections of the world as "shithole countries."

  • Silvia Cachia
    2019-04-28 00:47

    A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa, by by Alexis Okeowo.I knew about this book thanks to a Goodreads friend, Ina. who also blogs here.The book writen by American journalist Alexis Okeowo, who grew up in Texas, and whose parents are from Nigeria, relates to us the lives of several men and women in these four countries: Uganda, Mauritania, Nigeria, and Somalia.The book was published in October 2017, and the information is very current, which made it more devastating to hear.I'm very glad I got out off my reading path, and took up this tangent. Historic non fiction is proving a great way to show me how ignorant I am, and if it's well written, -as this one is, it's urgently needed. News can't keep me as informed as a person who knows about conflicts and problems first hand, and who can write with skill. Okeowo doesn't beautify nor vilify any person or event. However, she's not just a detached journalist, she is tangled up in what she talks about, and in the second part, she includes a bit of her own personal thoughts on how this all affected her. Apart from those brief explanations, most of the book displays an informational style, to the point, succinct and direct, definitely journalistic.I wish I had read this review before reading the book. The only flaw the reviewer sees, it's in the structure of the book. Given that I'm zero familiar with these four countries, the fact that she split the stories of each country in two parts, made it more difficult to follow. If I had read the review, I would have read, Uganda, part I, and part II, Mauritania, part I and part II, and so on. But I wasn't totally lost. By the second part, when she picks the narration of each country, I started to remember who she was talking about.The section devoted to Uganda is about the life of two teens abducted by The Lord's Resistance Army. Fifteen years old Eunice was forced to marry nineteen year old Bosco. Those child soldiers, abducted and forced to harm the communities they came from, and the young women they force to marry them, have a hard time coming back and being re-integrated. Both victimizers and victims, their life is impossibly hard both while at the LRA lines, and, if lucky to leave the LRA alive, in the communities they go back to.Mauritania is about slavery. I'm ashamed to know I didn't know there's still so many slaves, and not just that, the vestiges of slavery, the culture and mentality of slavery, it's so hard to upturn. From Mauritania, I appreciated the insider's look into this activist man, Bokum. Events and people that are celebrated in the West, don't have the same meaning inside this country for those in power, and those opposing the abuses and denial of a problem that's present in reality, -despite of being denied its existence by the authorities.Nigeria. Boko Haram, and the abduction of hundreds of girls from a boarding school in Chibok, is a story where reality outdoes anything we could have imagined. Why did they abduct them? Because they were girls, and going to school. Such a basic right, we think, yet those many girls and women who want to lead a normal life, are threatened by fundamentalists. In this section we learn about a group of vigilantes that was form following the initiative of just one brave taxi driver. However, as in the case of Uganda, the role of the government military and the terrorist group becomes murky.Living in the bush. Something I had not heard about before, but that's what the young men and women were instructed to do to avoid terrorist raids. They had to sleep in the bush, no true rest, always alert to the dangers. And, if abducted, that's how the terrorist groups lived as well.Somalia. There's still young women being killed for the great sin of playing basketball. Yes. And, if not murdered, harassed, threatened, deterred in every possible way.I agree with Taryn's review when she says this,Okeowo explores their flaws, hopes, and fears without judgment.That's what I appreciate the most about the book. I'm glad I decided to read it. Thanks, Ina, for recommending it to me.

  • Valerie
    2019-05-15 06:14

    There were two quotes from the preface that set the tone for this book perfectly:They are not only activists and vigilantes, but also ordinary people. I became interested in subtler forms of resistance, ways of fighting that are not easy to notice. Preserving your way of life amid extreme situations is also a vital struggle. -That is the thing about fighting extremism—each victory, tiny and large, can feel monumental. In this book, Alexis Okeowo frames the picture of resistance through this understanding in a manner that made each story relatable despite its extreme differences from the life I live. Many of the stories recount moments of incredible strength and resilience. On the flip side, so much of what they're fighting for, risking their lives for, and striving towards are ordinary and what many in the United States may see as a right. This is a large part of why I think the stories here really struck me: they were a reminder of the many privileges I have simply because of where and when I was born, a sentiment Okeowo herself acknowledges and shares. All in all, this is a read that explores how despite the progress we have (and haven't) seen in recent years, there's still so much further to go. There's definitely some points that I had to read and reread and then reread again because of how much information was provided to the reader. However, given the complications present in the political climates these men and women live in, that detail is completely understandable. I enjoyed it and would recommend, especially as a means of understanding a whole different view of the world than you may usually have. This book was a strong reminder for me of the privilege I have and motivated me to try to use that privilege to benefit those who aren't as lucky as I have been.

  • Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
    2019-04-29 02:54

    This is a short nonfiction work by a Nigerian-American journalist that goes behind the headlines in four conflict areas in Africa, telling the stories of people who range from victims to local leaders. It is a very engaging book, a quick read that introduces readers to several countries and humanizes big events, although at only 236 pages for so many stories, it is very brief and therefore unable to treat its subjects with the depth I would have liked.Eunice is a teenage girl living in rural northern Uganda when she is kidnapped by Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army while visiting her sister at boarding school. Once in the bush, she is forced to marry Bosco, a young man also kidnapped as a teenager, and both are forced to participate in acts of violence. By the time both eventually escape, they have children together, and Eunice, like many young women whose futures are circumscribed by LRA kidnapping, decides to return to Bosco. Former rebels are given amnesty to encourage defection, but the couple faces ostracism from their community and seems to be passing on their trauma to their children.Biram is a Mauritanian activist, growing up in a socially conscious family in the last country in the world to outlaw slavery (it became illegal in 1981, but not a criminal offense until 2007), and one where the police remain uninterested in bringing wealthy slaveowners to justice. He starts an organization dedicated to eradicating slavery, rescues slaves directly and draws attention to the cause by risky acts like publicly burning the books used to justify slavery under Muslim law (though he is Muslim himself). Later he expands his focus to other racial justice issues and runs for president of Mauritania.Abba, aka Elder, is an auditor and patriarch of a large family in northern Nigeria when Boko Haram gains traction in the area. Frustrated by the lack of government response to the attacks, he joins a local vigilante group that captures militants and hands them over to security forces, proving far more effective than the actual military. He becomes a leader in the group and moves into politics as well. Meanwhile, Rebecca is a teenage boarding school student in nearby Chibok when she is kidnapped by Boko Haram along with 300 classmates. Fortunately, she is one of the 50-odd with the courage and presence of mind to quickly escape, and gradually overcomes her trauma while returning to school in a distant city.Finally, Aisha is a teenage girl in Mogadishu, Somalia, who refuses to let al-Shabaab terrorists intimidate her out of playing basketball. They certainly try – she receives regular death threats by phone, is nearly kidnapped and has a gun pointed at her on a bus – and another female player is brutally murdered. But Aisha is determined to live her own life, and she and her teammates find joy in the game and treasure rare opportunities to participate in tournaments, despite the lack of government support.These are all fascinating stories, though the subtitle doesn’t quite fit anyone other than perhaps Aisha: Biram and Elder are leaders, not ordinary people, while Rebecca is a survivor but not exactly fighting extremism, and Eunice and Bosco remain victims. Each story is told in two chapters, one in the first half of the book and the other in the second, and the second half provides much of the emotional consequences and complexity that seemed to be missing from the first half. Of course the circumstances of these people’s lives, and the strength required to keep going, is extraordinary to the Western reader. This book tells very compelling stories in a quick and accessible way; for me it is too quick (each of these stories deserves its own book), but it provides a great introduction while telling human stories behind events in the headlines. My other reservation is the fact that the book cites no sources, and the author tells us nothing about her research other than what happens to come out in the text as she relates her experiences in meeting these folks. She generally applies critical thought to the stories people tell her – for instance, she includes the accusations of brutality against Elder’s group – but sometimes seems to accept simplistic stories, as in the 9-page life story of a Mauritanian slave that seems to be a chronicle of constant abuse. Though the author seems to do her research, it’s never clear how well the stories are corroborated.Despite that, I think this is a great premise for a book and these stories are engaging, emotional, and well-told, with enough background information included for readers unfamiliar with these countries to understand their contexts. I recommend it.

  • Dayle (the literary llama)
    2019-05-21 05:05

    RATING: ★★★★★ / 4.5 Stars!REVIEW: I received this book for free from Hachette Books in exchange for an honest review.I love non-fiction but there aren't a lot of non-fiction books that interest me. I'm particular about my choices, mainly the author, because a great subject could be rendered completely boring in the wrong hands. Still, when Hachette offered me a chance to read A MOONLESS, STARLESS SKY, I immediately said yes. The synopsis may be small but the promise of this book was great and I knew I had to give it a chance...and I'm so happy I did.A MOONLESS, STARLESS SKY is amazing. Alexis Okeowo did an excellent job with the 4 stories she told of "ordinary women and men fighting extremism in Africa". The book was split into two sections, the first having the begining of each of the 4 stories and the second having the conclusion (what they are up until the current time) of each of the true tales. Her writing style spoke to me. It flowed and moved and informed without getting too bogged down in historical and/or geographical facts (something that has happened in other non-fiction that I have read). She told us just enough to give us an acurate picture without going overboard into a long-winded text-book like examination. The stories were about the people and Okeowo kept that in focus.There is an amazing diversity between all the different stories. Each one highlighting different races, beliefs, genders, nationalities and how those are treated and perceived and evolving in the different regions. But even with all of those differences there is a cohesiveness. The fight against extremism in all it's different forms, brings these stories and people together in a way. And it's eye opening.These are the stories of real people. They are great people and they are flawed people, struggling and yet strong, each victory great and small is worth so much. And the way these victories are accomplished can be hard to understand, simply because we will never live through such situations, but Okeowo tells them with a mixture of fact and empathy that makes all the difference. You see heroes and heroines, the beginnings and middles of violence and resistance, the fight back that may seem like another form of extremism, but through it all are the people who are doing what they feel is right. They are incredible stories.Overall I gave A MOONLESS, STARLESS SKY 4.5 stars, although it was easy to round up in this case. I highly recommend it and hope you connect with the writing the same way I did.

  • Krystal
    2019-05-14 07:00

    The comparison to Katherine Boo's, Behind the Beautiful Forevers made me weary, but I can wholeheartedly confirm that this author's compassion for her characters far surpasses that book!

  • Cynthia
    2019-04-20 01:51

    I really wanted to love this book. A book about Africa, written by a first-generation Nigerian American and told from the perspective of ordinary people instead of bureaucrats and international aid workers? Sign me up.The stories themselves are compelling: an LRA child soldier and the girl who was forced to marry him, who choose to stay together after they are free; one man's campaign against modern-day slavery in Mauritania; a girls basketball team that continues to play despite threats to their lives from Muslim extremists; a vigilante group fighting Boko Haram. Unfortunately, Okeowo's writing is not. Whereas other works of journalistic nonfiction I have read (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, and Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, for example) brought some fire to the subject matter without sacrificing fact-based reporting, Okeowo is cool and clinical where more than a little passion is warranted and needed. For example, there was one point when she met with a bureaucrat to discuss the girls basketball team and why they had not been able to travel outside of Somalia for games. When the official was evasive with his answers, she said she grew "bored" with him and turned to something else. Bored? Not frustrated or angry, just bored? Others may find this lack of emotion "journalistic" and "unbiased"; for me it undermined Okeowo's efforts to connect readers with the real lives of real people. Finally, I found the structure of the book somewhat frustrating. Each story is broken into two parts, so you read the first half of each story in part 1, and the second half in part 2. There was no logical or thematic reason why they needed to be split like this, and I found myself forgetting people and events by the time I reached part two. I would recommend reading each story in full (from part 1 and 2) before moving onto the next.

  • Ifeyinwa
    2019-05-15 01:05

    Gathering my thoughts on how to articulate why this book disappointed me.

  • Amirah Jiwa
    2019-05-10 00:55

    A collection of beautifully vivid stories that manage to captivate without losing any of the context and nuance essential to reporting like this. Okeowo doesn't fall victim to any of the common pitfalls when discussing religious extremism or conflict: no poverty porn, no casting her subjects as pitiful and their situations as devastating, no ignoring all the shades of gray to paint a black-and-white picture of what's right or wrong, good or evil. Most importantly, this book does what it set out to do: highlight the (extra-)ordinary people that are fighting extremism with great courage and optimism (though they might not see it that way themselves). Tears pricked my eyes at moments, but the cause was never a sad thing described. Rather, it was always a powerful action taken or set of words spoken by someone who has hope for a better future that moved me.

  • Karen
    2019-04-29 07:52

    If you're looking for something indepth on the topic of extremism in Africa, this is not it. It clocks in at under 250 pages and has NO index. What you have here is a short collection of personality profiles. The personalities being profiled are extraordinary--a man on a crusade to end modern-day slavery; girls snatched from their schools by terrorists and the consequences they face for their actions; a female student athlete who continues to play basketball despite death threats--but I wish this book had gone deeper than it did. There were hints at the potential for more. One of the characters fighting Boko Haram in Nigeria is part of a posse of rebels who are perilously close to being lawless vigilantes themselves. A school girl captured in Uganda and "given" to a terrorist chooses to reunite with him after they escape. Any one of these vignettes were worth whole books of their own--delving into history, connecting the dots of colonialism and politics, etc. The author writes for the New Yorker. The stories in this book felt like fleshed-out magazine articles (albeit really good, readable articles that bring the people within to life). Still, this book has garnered mostly four and five star reviews and has found an audience. That makes me happy. I'm calling it: There's a trend in the reading world and it's tilting toward nonfiction. Nonfiction about current events. Nonfiction that takes the reader beyond the borders of America. Or, if you've read "Notes on a Foreign Country" by Suzy Hansen: Books that are actually very much about America.

  • Jill Dobbe
    2019-05-13 05:01

    An exceptional and well written book about people fighting for basic human rights in four distinct African countries. The four compelling stories included in this book are the accounts of what the author experienced while living and working in Uganda, Nigeria, Mauritania, and Somalia. The stories and experiences are well researched, real, honest, and eye-opening. I found each story I read more remarkable and shocking than the previous ones. The author brings to light what regular people have have had to endure during the conflicts in these countries. Each tale and account of the inhumane atrocities that the Africans live with are rarely heard about in the U.S. and I thank the author for writing this book and for shedding light on the brave men and women who are fighting to bring an end to the brutal practices that exist in these African countries.Thank you to Netgalley and publishers of A Moonless, Starless Sky.

  • Shirleen R
    2019-04-27 05:48

    Proper review - TBA5/5 In A Moonless, Starless Sky, reporter Alexis Okweowo includes no maps. No glossary, no footnotes. The only numbers you'll find are years in which events took place. This is not a textbook, because Africans are not amorphous, collective statistics. Okweowo crafted this book in a deliberate fashion that foregrounds the voices of her subjects - Eunice, Bosco, Biram, Elder, Aisha - and their specific home African countries - Nigeria, Mauritania, Uganda, Somalia. Each subject survived the religious extremists who invaded their communities with guns, violence, assault, and chaos, and disrupted their lives -- enslavement, death threats, kidnapping and captivity, rape and forced child soldier killing. In Biram's modern slavery abolition chapters, the slavery practice precede him by centuries, his fight is against centuries of White Moors who enslave he and his people the Haratin.Okweowo uses a personable touch to recount these stories, in the words of these survivors whenever possible. With a deft, economic touch, she layers their lives with context -- the national histories, religious laws, ethnic or tribal conflicts, and political legacies and conflicts which shape what their narratives imply. When U.S. news reports these stories that Okeowo tells, the talking heads drown us in statistics and death and suffering African collective. Truth is, we do not hear about African lives until they've died in large numbers due to suicide bombings, disease, refugee camp neglect. That is, if U.S. and Western countries report these stories at all. The way Okeowo s reports on ordinary African lives is what makes this book vital reading. Stories include a Nigerian girl a who escapes Boko Haram and suffers survivor guilt. A Somalian teenage girl who endures death threats because she plays basketball, the unlikely romance between an Ugandan husband, former child soldier boy, and a Ugandan wife, his former hostage and rape survivor, and the children of that rape which the wife choose to rear with him, together as a married couple. Also vital: Okeowo writes about counseling, lack of psychotherapy, rehabilitation centers, tribal reconciliation customs part of her subject's process to adapt to life in the 'after'.Further, she discloses how her journalist subjects stories impact her. The sleepless nights, the disorientation (she was in Nigeria in spring 2014, when Boko Haram kidnapped 300 girls from their Chibok schools). Crucial and distinct to Okeowo's account: she shares anecdotes of happier, peaceful days and celebratory nights. The night is not always 'starless' in these African countries. She's a self-described repat, born to Nigerian parents , raised from childhood in Alabama. She requires an interpreter to conduct her interviews, and yet, she writes with an ease that suggests her identity as both African-American and African-in-America enable her to forge empathetic ties, where outsiders to the continent may possess blindspots about the PTSD, social stigma, community exile her African interviewees may suffer or risk because they shared their stories with a Western, New Yorker writer. A Moonless, Starless Sky is a beautiful credit to 6 years of intrepid, insistent, sensitive reporting. Well done.

  • Alison
    2019-05-08 04:12

    One really gets a feeling for what it is like to lose ones freedom and dreams. The Author, who was born in the USA but of Nigerian parents, decided she wanted to go back to her families roots and take a fellowship with Princeton-in-Africa. This book is a result of her time there and it is about ordinary people standing up to extremism in Africa. While reporting in Different countries in Africa, she tells us about the different conflicts that have taken place and some that are ongoing, these stories beside the facts that she gives us, describe the conflicts through the voices of ordinary people and what they went through.We hear from abolitionists fighting to free Mauritania's slaves, from young people kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army trained, to kill rape and torture, to stay alive themselves. From the struggle to just be able to play women's basketball in Somalia, without fearing death threats. To the Boko Haram Kidnapping, of Dozens of Girls.This book, with a history of the conflicts, and through some of the people who went through them, was a very educational read and made the stories very relatable.I would like to thank NetGalley and Hachette Books for the ARC

  • Terence
    2019-04-25 05:03

    I wanted to like this book more.There are two chief flaws, IMO. The first is a lack of focus. The best section of the book is Eunice and Bosco's story (Uganda). They were teen-agers when kidnapped by the Lord's Resistance Army, and Eunice was given to Bosco as his wife. Today, they are still together with a family and coping with their experiences. It concentrates on these two with just enough background to put them in context. Aisha's story (Somalia) is also focused mainly on her and benefits from it. However, the other two sections (Mauritania & Nigeria) have too many "characters." In the former, we begin with a woman who's rescued from slavery but then digress into the career of Biram Dah Abeid, the leader of a group struggling to actually end the institution (which has been de jure illegal only since 2007), and only come back to the woman at the end of the piece. In the latter, the author splits her time between one of the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram and the leader of a vigilante group resisting the terrorists.[1]The second flaw is that I wanted deeper insight into the psychology of these people. Okeowo touches on why Eunice and Bosco are still together and the personal and social effects of the trauma they and others have endured but then she leaves it. Similarly, she begins to explore why a slave might be terrified of freedom in the Mauritania section but then leaves it.That said, I'd still recommend this book. Okeowo is a good writer and these would be excellent long-form essays in a magazine but they needed to be fleshed out.[1] Serendipitously, there's a review of Preaching in the Desert: Political Islam and Social Change in Mauritania, Zekeria Ould Ahmed Salem, in the Nov. 23rd edition of the NYRB that anyone interested in this book might also want to look into.

  • Alexis (hookedtobooks)
    2019-04-27 08:07

    Thank you so much to @hachettebooks for sending me this book! I absolutely loved it!The book is a work of non fiction by Alexis Okeowo, who went to Africa and met all these interesting people fighting extremism in Africa. The book follows four different events: a couple in Uganda who were kidnapping victims of Joseph Kony's LRA, a man in Mauritania fighting to abolish slavery in his country, two people in Nigeria affected by Boko Haram, and a young woman playing basketball in Somalia, even though her life is threatened. Reading about how these people have fought for justice in their own country, and their terrible experiences is a real eye-opener into how little we know of what goes on in Africa and how little the media covers it. Okeowo writes in a beautiful and descriptive way so that the ready is along for an intense ride! I was completely hooked from the preface, as Okeowo writes, "The four stories in A Moonless, Starless Sky all deal, in some way, with extremism within Christianity and Islam. But there are many types of extremism, in the spheres of gender and sexuality, nationalism, and race." She then goes on to describe the importance of keeping in mind that the men and women fighting back are doing so within their own religion, for their own beliefs. I highly recommend this book!

  • Amy Morgan
    2019-05-10 08:14

    Definitely a story everyone should read. The tales of the four individuals in this book are stories of bravery, each of them taking a stand for what they believe in often at tremendous risk to themselves. It is quite scary to read the events that have occurred and are still occurring in Africa. This is a book that will really make you think about your own freedoms and how you should not take them for granted.

  • Hayli
    2019-05-18 02:12

    5 reasons I liked this book:1. Okeowo is able to say so much in so few pages. Every aspect of each story feels essential. I commend her for being so succinct in her writing and having such a well developed writing style for her first book.2. The people she chose to follow are so different from each other and even though she is telling their story, each person has their own distinct voice in the narrative.3. The variation in what she defines as "fighting extremism". From activists, to people who have escaped the LRA to a young woman playing basketball, they are all challenging their societal norms in their own way and contributing to a better future no matter how grand the scale of their actions.4. This book is incredibly personal. The world is seen through the eyes of these individuals and you are able to form a much deeper connection with them instead of if the narrative had been told from the perspective of a large organisation.5. The structure of the book is quite unique and really helped me experience the passage of time for many of the people. Instead of each story being told in completion they are all set up for about 20-30 pages each in the beginning of the book and after all the people are introduced the book goes back to the first story a little bit in the future and so on for each one.

  • Margaret Sankey
    2019-04-26 05:14

    Okeowo, the child of Nigerian immigrants to Montgomery, AL, has been immersed in African politics as a Princeton Africa Fellow and journalist. This work is a vivid compilation of four extraordinary situations, arranged around the theme of individual action against extremism--a personal campaign against slavery, personal redemption from a coerced life as a child soldier, finding team belonging in a women's basketball league and violent resistance to Boko Haram. This is journalistic--which is not a negative--but a reader unfamiliar with the systemic problems addressed here will need to do background reading, and will come away deeply moved, but left to make the leap to possible responses.

  • Bedoor Khalaf
    2019-05-09 01:10

    I loved every chapter!!! I didn’t realize the horrors that were brought up and how recent this all is. To think that there were still slaves and may still be slaves to this day is horrific! The book portrayed just a few powerful men and women who are changing the world which makes us wonder what are we doing to change the world.

  • Carolyn
    2019-05-20 02:54

    Painful, eye-opening, and thankfully hopeful. It puts our everyday woes in perspective, and sheds light on stories we tend to overlook in the news. Glad to have lucked into this book as an ARC.

  • Brittany
    2019-04-25 04:56

    Okeowo's stories about extremism and survival in four African countries are both heartbreaking and inspirational. The last narrative, about women's basketball in Somalia starkly reminded me, as cliche as it sounds, how much we take for granted in the US. I grew up playing basketball in the cul-de-sac by my friend's house. The women and girls in this narrative get death threats by phone and are even nearly abducted by al-Shabaab militants for daring to play basketball in Somalia. One female basketball player in the narrative is actually killed. In Uganda, young boys are kidnapped and forced to commit atrocities for the Lord's Resistance Army, then young girls are kidnapped and forced to be their wives. If they manage to escape the LRA, the horrible things they were forced to do to survive stay with them and make their chances for a normal life after returning home slim. In Mauritania, slavery is still alive and well, and slavery is inherited from mother to child. The Initiative for Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) helps free slaves and prosecute slave-owners. The Mauritanian Haratin, lower class people with a history of being slaves, are still in the long process of fighting for equality. And in Nigeria, the Boko Haram, an extremist group against Western education and for jihad, are similarly abducting young boys and girls for their armies and as sex slaves. A vigilante Civilian Joint Task Force is formed to aid the insufficient army in capturing suspected Boko Haram members. Most of the people in these narratives fighting Christian and Islam extremism in these countries are themselves devout Christians or Muslims. This is summed up nicely in one paragraph of the last chapter: "And, like with Aisha, the calls soon started. Unfamiliar, menacing voices telling her to stop playing. They called all the time... They told her she wouldn't go to heaven [for playing basketball]. "That's funny," she said to one. "You guys are killing people and you think you're going to heaven?" I will never understand religious extremism, especially when there is so much scripture encouraging kindness. These narratives capture the horrors that ordinary people experience at the hands of extremism, and what they are trying to do to prevent it.As much inspiration as there is, it's also distressing. How can we, as humans, end extremism? How to we combat the things that cause young people to choose extremist ideals? It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world.

  • RaeAnna Rekemeyer
    2019-04-29 03:52

    Okeowo is a first generation daughter of Nigerian immigrants. After college, she decided to experience Africa for herself. Currently, she is a staff writer at The New Yorker. A Moonless, Starless Sky is her debut book of literary journalism delving into experiences she had while living and working in Africa.Exploring the fight against extremism in Africa she focuses on the LRA in Uganda, modern day slavery in Mauritania, Boko Haram’s reign of terror in Nigeria, and religious terrorism in Somalia. Though briefly covered in international news, Okeowo brings a spotlight to these areas probing into the complexities of the real issues often brushed over and forgotten by the media. She manages to inform, entertain, and convey so much to the reader in a mere 256 pages. Exploring the bigger issues, she tells the stories of average individuals surviving, recovering, and acting as beacons of hope through their everyday bravery. A Moonless, Starless Sky is a must read. Okeowo writes with intensity and honesty about the issues, the people, and her experiences along the way. Shrouded in atrocity, human rights violations, terrorism, and more, she manages to have of humor and sarcasm. The book is so relatably human in it’s approach to such a heavy topic saturated in monstrosity. Okeowo’s words will haunt your thoughts long after the book has been closed.

  • Nike L
    2019-04-26 00:12

    I LOVE this beautifully written book. Okeowo has a distinct voice. She's able to write in a way that does not shield you from the horror and deep suffering that her subjects experience, but rather than feel as if you're in the shoes of the subjects, you feel reminded of the many layers of protection that keep you safe in this world that have failed so many others. In casual language, we learn about how her subjects' lives were overturned, and despite the extreme nature of their circumstances, we recognize that the distress of their lives are as commonplace to them as the minor inconveniences that we complain about in ours. Many authors would exploit the tragedies of these brave individuals to induce panic in their audiences, but Okeowo's art is in her ability to dampen the panic, and force us to recognize our good fortune.Okeowo captures the resolve of her subjects in a way that elicits solemn respect, admiration and empathy. You walk away from this book with a sense of gratitude. Gratitude that you have been afforded the life that you have and that there are people out there who are stronger than you who are fighting for the same.

  • Haldan Gates
    2019-05-08 08:01

    First of all, know that talking about extremism of any kind almost always comes with at least some description of atrocities, and this book is not an exception. It's not even close to being a constant stream of gratuitous horror, but there are a few disturbing paragraphs that are necessary for accurate reporting.This is an important book to read. The stories of people working to fight against radicalism, corruption, and entrenched oppression are compelling are compelling and genuine, and evoke a more nuanced and thoughtful response than many accounts of Africa's challenges. This isn't pity porn, this is a discussion of how African people are working hard to counter extremism and corruption. This book asks the question, "how do you reintegrate child soldiers when they return home, after having been forced to commit atrocities?" It ponders on the role of vigilante groups in areas where the state has either been unable or unwilling to maintain basic order. It explores modern slavery, and presents basketball as a weapon against radical religious oppression. She also uses an intelligently conversational tone that neither bogs down in minutiae nor patronizes the typical Western reader who may be unfamiliar with African history and politics.Occasionally I found myself worrying that she was about to cross over from non-fiction with a clearly defined personal viewpoint into reflection and speculation as she described her worries over her impact on her subjects for some of the stories. I certainly don't mean to suggest that she shouldn't have an opinion, or that she shouldn't acknowledge her own role where appropriate (in fact, her interwoven personal experiences as a dual citizen help to build a contextual bridge for non-African readers). I simply mean that this book wouldn't have worked well as a memoir, and that dry reporting of only the facts would have carried far less impact. She ultimately blended her personal observations with objective reporting competently, and all the better for the book.There are a few minor technical flaws- it can be confusing to keep track of the stories, given the two-part, four-thread approach she's taken, and I personally found myself stumbling over some of the structure in parts, but with a couple of quick trips to previous pages to remind myself of a name or an acronym, it wasn't hard to keep up.Recommended for anyone interested in expanding their knowledge about the current state of African social justice.

  • Lillian
    2019-05-17 07:03

    Alexis never really felt connected to the African continent until she took up a 10- month internship in Uganda. This prompted her to dig deeper into the people's issues and share stories from different parts of the continent. In Mauritania, Alexis encounters an anti-slavery campaigner who receives a lot of backlash from his government, a Ugandan couple whose lives were changed by Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA),  a Chibok escapee and Somalian girls who use basketball as their lifelines under the al-Shabaab. A Moonless, Starless Sky is divided into two sections where the reader gets to the life of these courageous men and women before and after these life-changing experiences and how they attempt to normalise their lives.  Much of the spotlight has been on Rwanda because of the 1994 genocide and the countries with conflict minerals especially in Central Africa as well as in Sudan.  But I was keen on learning more the reintegration of perpetrators and victims of atrocities back into society and the supporting socio-political institutions.After reading about mass atrocities in Rwanda and the Jewish Holocaust, Okeowo was able to succinctly articulate in this book what I had not been able to when she says "it is not simply a matter of victims versus perpetrators...Nearly everyone recognised that perpetrators were also victims" because hate can only beget hate. Mauritania, in particular, got my attention earlier in the year when I came across a Quartz article on the prevailing slavery situation, despite it being the last country in the world to abolish slave trade.Similar to The Girl Who Beat ISIS, this book will definitely make you commiserate with the men and women who have gone out of their way to live their normal lives. But at the same time, the reader will get angry at the state of the world and how a swathe of the global society still holds on to some regressive ideas. Overall, I am pretty sure that when you pick this book you will gain a broader and more in-depth own voices perspective on some of the issues that plague the African continent and how some brave people have taken the matter into their own hands. It will make want to appreciate your life no matter how mundane you may perceive your life to be. Hopefully, A Moonless, Starless Sky will spur you to make a difference in other people's lives even by gestures in your own community.

  • Michelle Kenneth
    2019-05-09 02:59

    This book is one of the most important books you need to read.  It is so well written and brings to light the stories of four people in Africa who are fighting extremism.  These stories will enlighten you, rattle you, anger you, and make you very sad.  In one story, a young girl wants to play basketball.  That is all she wants to do.  Yet, because she is a woman, she faces death threats.  In another story, children are kidnapped and forced to kill their families and entire villages.  They are victims forced to kill or be killed.  What happens when they try to escape?  What happens when they try to go home after what they've done?  In another country, a man fights to end slavery and receives backlash from religion and the slave owners.  And then there's the story of the girls that were kidnapped by Boko Haram.This book was one of the best books I read in 2017.  Alexis Okeowo did an incredible job telling these four stories.  It was so well written that I added this book to my curated library.  For writers and journalists, pick this book up and follow Alexis's narrative on how to cover and write a story.  For readers, pick this book up for the written word and to discover the stories of incredible people seeking to change the world for the better.  It will inspire you.[Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.]