Last week, I read A Thousand Sisters by Lisa Shannon. This book was exquisite, powerful, and honest. I’ve read quite a few travel memoirs- they are one of my favorite genres to read and this one is definitely in my top five. Not just because it tells a story that is desperate to be told- that of the mass murder and rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but because it’s incredibly sincere and well-written. The conflict in the Congo is a subject I’ve studied extensively and never fails to devastate me in the deepest way. I’ve traveled in East Africa and fell in love with it instantly, and though I’ve never been to the Congo, I’m quite familiar with the players involved in the inhuman acts of murder and rape that have taken place there for an unspeakable amount of time. Lisa Shannon tells the story of discovering the trials of the Congo on Oprah and feeling compelled to start some sort of effort to help the women there. She started running. Through her running, she began to gain sponsorship and soon, she had raised quite a bit of money to sponsor women in the Congo in workforce training. After many miles run and many speeches given to compel people to recognize and address the travesty happening in the Congo, she decided to travel there herself.
Lisa Shannon’s account of what happened to her on her 5-week stay in the Congo is informative and very honest. She doesn’t gloss over difficult stories, she doesn’t try to camouflage her feelings, and she doesn’t try to make herself sound like a saint. It was a revelation. So many of the travel memoirs I read about that are set in areas of conflict attempt to make the writer sound like the most altruistic person alive. The truth is never that perfect. Lisa Shannon tells the truth in this novel. She is open about being put off for more requests for money when she had already given so much, but she also continues to wish she could give them what they ask for and need. She expresses regret when she asks questions that are too pressing, too taboo, and she learns to ask them in a different way the next time. The stories of these women of the Congo aren’t beautiful. Conflict never is. But the hope many of them still have for the future is nothing short of superhuman. The women themselves are beautiful spirits even if the things that have happened to them in life aren’t. There are times when Lisa Shannon feels helpless and as the reader, and someone familiar with the conflict, I understood that. But ultimately, even if it seems like nothing you do makes any type of significant change, you have to keep trying. Not because it makes you a good person but because they, the victims, need you to.
A truly stellar read. Inspiring. Heartbreaking. Personal.
If you would like to help women in the Congo please visit the Women for Women International website.
What are you reading?