MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Excerpt from A Moonless, Starless Sky by Alexis Okeowo, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Moonless, Starless Sky

Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa

by Alexis Okeowo

A Moonless, Starless Sky by Alexis Okeowo X
A Moonless, Starless Sky by Alexis Okeowo
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2017, 256 pages
    Oct 2018, 256 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

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 change 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 the past. They could change 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.

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. These stories are only a few windows into what is happening in Africa. And it is revealing that the women and men fighting back are Christian and Muslim, too, and often fighting within their religions for the principles in which they believe.

I don't have much experience with resisting extremism in my own life. But I do know what it is like to live in a culture of extremes, as a black girl who grew up in the Deep South in the 1990s. Within days of moving to Alabama, a white woman shouted "Nigger!" at my father, my brother, and I as we drove past her car at a gas station. My father immediately reversed the car and pulled into the station to ask the woman what, exactly, she had said. She had nothing to say after that. A pack of white boys at my high school in Montgomery, home of the Civil Rights Movement, wore T-shirts, sweaters, whatever they could find, emblazoned with the Confederate flag. I went to an academically rigorous school and had white and black friends, but my relationships with my white classmates always had a terminal boundary, past which lay weekend sleepovers and house parties that I couldn't join because it just wasn't done. And so, I became used to the extreme polarity of race where I lived, darting between each end with frequency, but never feeling free to jump off one with abandon.

For years, my family faithfully attended an evangelical church that tried to do good works in minority communities. One day, before an upcoming election, the pastor announced a list of right-wing politicians he wanted the congregation to vote for, even though they had no record of representing his black, working- and middle-class parishioners' interests. He was trying to curry favor with the city's political elite. When we left the church after the pastor's hypocrisy was exposed, it did feel like a win. That is the thing about fighting extremism—each victory, tiny and large, can feel monumental.

Part One

An LRA Love Story

The moonless, starless sky was bright the evening Eunice met Bosco in the forests of southern Sudan. The year was 1996, and Eunice had been kidnapped two weeks earlier from a school in a town called Aboke, in northern Uganda, by men who called themselves the Lord's Resistance Army. Founded by a young man named Joseph Kony in 1987, the LRA was raiding villages in Uganda's north and abducting children while routing the Ugandan army. Eunice was a thoughtful girl of fifteen with inquisitive eyes and closely cropped hair, and she had been visiting her older sister at a girls' boarding school when rebels surrounded the building. The men, who were really boys if you looked at them closely, tied the girls together with rope and forced them to trek through the forests of northern Uganda, on the way to Sudan, for over a week while they cooked, did laundry, and fetched water for them. Eunice was frightened and exhausted. She was still wearing the blue cotton skirt, her best one, and the matching blouse that she had thought would impress her sister's friends. Eunice wanted to attend their school one day, too, be among these accomplished girls, and she had hoped to show them that she could fit in, be smart and interesting, dress like they did.

Excerpted from A Moonless, Starless Sky by Alexis Okeowo. Copyright © 2017 by Alexis Okeowo. Excerpted by permission of Hachette Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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