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The Storms That Shape Us

PhD Student Fairouz Hussien reviews A Storm Blew in from Paradise by Johannes Anyuru.

Having read some of Johannes Anyuru’s works before, I knew that linguistically, I was in for a treat. Even translated, his descriptions paint a picture one is hard pressed to forget for a while afterwards.

His book A Storm Blew in from Paradise tells the story of his father, P, and to some degree, Johannes himself. A promising Ugandan pilot, P deserted after Idi Amin’s coup in 1971. What followed was a story of a man on the run, seeking refuge, and all the horrors such ordeal entails. The glimpses of Johannes’s story, found between the harrowing experiences of his father, provide an anchor of sorts – an anchor to reality. This happened, this is real. Or, should one not find his presence an anchor to reality, at least it could be a sign of hope, a reassurance: a promise that the war that consumes P’s life will end.

It is sometimes easy to be desensitized to what is written in books, but the mere mention of Idi Amin was a jarring reminder of all the other dictators like him. As a Libyan native, his name was familiar to me, weighed by the atrocities he committed during his years in power, and the echo of the Libyan soldiers sent to support him in Uganda during his war with Tanzania. When Amin was ousted, the first place he went to was Libya, from where he continued to Saudi Arabia.

There was more to this book than that, of course. Though the life of P was struck off rails when Idi Amin rose to power, the focus was kept on P, how he survived, and not the dictator that caused it all. How P lived before, and after, he deserted. The love he could have had, the childhood he couldn’t forget (if he even wanted to). This was, to me, a deeply emotional book, though I don’t know how much of it is due to my own preunderstanding of the forces behind the politics, and how much is due to the incredibly well-told story that unfolds in the pages.

When a book inspires feelings inside of you, you may emerge at the end of it feeling like something has changed. When I finished this book, I felt both peace, and love for a country that was never mine. Ultimately, to me, this was a story of perseverance. The strength needed to carry on living even when you’re lost and unsure of where you’re going. The hope that despite everything that is wrong in life right now, it will turn for the better eventually. Because, if you don’t know the ending yet, there’s still hope.

The storms we weather shape us, for better or for worse, and this isn’t the first time I’ve been affected by a book like this. The emotional response does, however, make me reflect on the development of empathy in business studies. I recall a few years ago discussing a study conducted by social researchers in New York, the results of which indicated that reading literary fiction improves empathy. Though I’m admittedly unsure of the finer details that went into the conduction of that study, it remains in my memory regardless.

Perhaps because, in business or elsewhere, there ought to always be some space left for empathy.

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