Uganda has beauty. The wonders of nature are there for all to see.
Enjoying a sunset is probably not the first thing one associated with camps for internally displaced people. It is not the first thing you associate with a fighter or a leader of Lord’s Resistance Army. One does not visualize a camp dweller dwelling on the beauty of a sunrise either. Yet both these occasions do take place on Joel D. Hirst’s fictional tale of Charles’s life. A life involving camps – not just one. But as you can see, this is how the sunrise is described in I, Charles, From The Camps: “Slowly the fog is revealed, and for that brief instant between those two forces, day and night, the world is mysterious and powerful, blanketed by mist and the quiet coolness of expectant nature.” Something so universal. Yet we meet a life story so far removed from our own.
Charles is a youngish boy in the beginning of the book. He has dreams and he wished to go for them too. And indeed that is what the does. That itself requires strength of mind. The reader will then follow the sequence of events and learn to know Charles’s thoughts as well as his actions. It is Charles that is speaking in the first person. This I found to be an important distinction. It is not Joel D. Hirst talking. It is how Charles is talking about how he feels. It is his passion and his black and white views we meet. Indeed, Joel. D. Hirst gives Charles a powerful voice. We get to know Charles, identify with the way he interprets things. Especially we identify with his love of reading! Charles, however, is not a character that causes great fondness and admiration. That is not attempted. Of course not, one might say. Yet Charles makes an impression in your heart. He is a prototype. You know that this fictional charcter exists in multiple forms in the real world. And circumstances make a difference. They matter. Luck too. Though I would not go as far as to say that all people would make the same choices in the same situations. Not even if Charles would like to see it that way.
Now, I have been talking about sunrises and sunsets. Do not be misguided. I, Charles, From The Camps is not an easy book to read. It is not for the faint-hearted. Indeed, I would classify it as a hard and dark read. It is not as dark as the cover makes it though. Towards the end a walk or two in nature will help. At least it helped me. Also be prepared that the book will be in your mind for some time. But that is probably what you wish from a book anyway. Even though Joel D. Hirst is not an African, I believe Joel D. Hirst took me to Africa and back.