Last year, McSweeney's gave us our first taste of South Sudanese literature — a collection of eight pieces by South Sudanese writers titled There Is a Country: New Fiction from the New Nation of South Sudan.
The publisher notes that the volume, edited by Nyuol Lueth Tong, is "the first of its kind, from the youngest country in the world."
Just over three years ago, the people of South Sudan gained recognition as a sovereign nation. Young and old took to the streets, crying, laughing and waving flags.
The New York Times, in reporting on the historic occasion, noted, "A new nation [is] being born in what used to be a forlorn, war-racked patch of Africa, and to many it [seems] nothing short of miraculous."
Over the last two years, however, the celebrations have given way to far more ominous circumstances: continuing tensions with the North, violence between political factions in the country, displacement of entire communities and the threat of famine.
It's perhaps fitting, then, that the stories in 'There Is a Country' fall somewhere in-between the celebrations and the sporadic violence. There is romance, mischief, family conflict and dreaming — the stuff of community life everywhere, whether in the American suburbs, or in one of South Sudan's refugee camps.
In "Port Sudan Journal," Victor Lugala tells the story of a 25-year-old who has slipped across the northern border into Sudan carrying a black rucksack with a pair of blue jeans, some boxer shorts, a toothbrush and a diary, ostensibly seeking out a long-lost uncle.
"The diary had been a birthday present from my Ugandan friend, given to me before I'd left home," the young man says. "It was as if he knew that one day I would be far away, wandering without a destination in mind."
In "Escape," by Edward Eremugo Luka, the narrator describes his late-night run from a group of men friendly with the North. The action appears to take place before South Sudan's independence, after the main character's family has safely fled their hut outside of Juba. As he turns his back on his now abandoned home, he vows to return one day in the future.