Publication Date: Apr 16, 2019
Inspired by the true story of a former slave who became a saint, this poignant novel explores how a human being can survive the obliteration of her identity, and how kindness and generosity can be born out of profound trauma.
She recalls little of her childhood, not even her own name. She was barely seven years old when she was snatched by slave raiders from her village in the Darfur region of southern Sudan. In a cruel twist, they gave her the name that she will carry for the rest of her life: Bakhita, “the Lucky One” in Arabic. Sold and resold along the slave trade routes, Bakhita endures years of unspeakable abuse and terror. At age thirteen, at last, her life takes a turn when the Italian consul in Khartoum purchases her. A few years later, as chaos engulfs the capital, the consul returns to Italy, taking Bakhita with him. In this new land, another long and arduous journey begins–one that leads her onto a spiritual path for which she is still revered today.
With rich, evocative language, Véronique Olmi immerses the reader in Bakhita’s world–her unfathomable resilience, her stubborn desire to live, and her ability to turn toward the pain of others in spite of the terrible sufferings that she too must endure.
Excerpt from Bakhita
One evening, Bakhita sits on a bench in the garden at the end of her day’s work. The last of the birds can be heard, it is always a surprise, this birdsong in the encroaching night. She listens to them and closes her eyes. The birds flit through the darkness, she senses the swallows’ swift flight, the bats on their rounds, the wind in the palm trees, the occasional call of a toad. She opens her eyes again, the sky is closing in, dark and dense. The first stars are appearing, so small at first, like forgotten traces. She watches as they make the darkening sky grow bigger, and in that attentive evening, something in her wakes. This place is beautiful. This land of her ancestors, this Sudanese sky, is beautiful. And she wonders why the world is so beautiful. To whom we owe this. All the ugliness of mankind, she is familiar with that. The violence born of man’s terrible anger. But the beauty, where does that derive from? This night hangs over the people of this world, free and immortal. And it speaks to her. As the earth did, remembering the suffering of slaves who came before her. Bakhita realizes that you can lose everything, your language, your village, your freedom. But not what you have given yourself. You do not lose your mother. Ever. It is a love as powerful as the beauty of the world, it is the beauty of the world. She brings her hand to her heart, and weeps, weeps tears of consolation. She was so afraid she would lose her.
“I was enthralled and moved by Olmi’s account of Bakhita’s life. This spare and sensuous novel is unflinching, yet not exploitative. Everyone should read this book.” —Therese Anne Fowler, New York Times bestselling author of A Well-Behaved Woman and Z
“A powerful, captivating story.” —Marek Halter, author of Sarah
“Intimate in tone, epic in scope, Bakhita tells the moving story of one woman’s trajectory from bondage to faith and healing.” —Mitchell James Kaplan, author of By Fire, By Water
“Poignant…Olmi enters into this character with empathy but without excessive pathos.” —Le Figaro
Praise for Beside the Sea:
“A harrowing evocation of mental illness, and of one woman’s terrifying inability to bear the burdens of motherhood. A sustained exercise in dread for the reader, but a surprisingly sympathetic portrait nonetheless.” —Lionel Shriver, author of We Need to Talk about Kevin
“Prose…filled with sad poetic sense and blunt, bleak realities, compellingly conveyed in Hunter’s colloquial English.” —Times Literary Supplement
“This is a mesmerizing portrait…it should be read.” —The Guardian