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They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky

The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan

Alephonsion Deng, Benson Deng, Benjamin Ajak


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Paperback (8/11/2015)


Benjamin, Alepho, and Benson were raised among the Dinka tribe of Sudan. Their world was an insulated, close-knit community of grass-roofed cottages, cattle herders, and tribal councils. The lions and pythons that prowled beyond the village fences were the greatest threat they knew.

All that changed the night the government-armed Murahiliin began attacking their villages. Amid the chaos, screams, conflagration, and gunfire, five-year-old Benson and seven-year-old Benjamin fled into the dark night. Two years later, Alepho, age seven, was forced to do the same. Across the Southern Sudan, over the next five years, thousands of other boys did likewise, joining this stream of child refugees that became known as the Lost Boys. Their journey would take them over one thousand miles across a war-ravaged country, through landmine-sown paths, crocodile-infested waters, and grotesque extremes of hunger, thirst, and disease. The refugee camps they eventually filtered through offered little respite from the brutality they were fleeing.

In "They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky," Alepho, Benson, and Benjamin, by turn, recount their experiences along this unthinkable journey. They vividly recall the family, friends, and tribal world they left far behind them and their desperate efforts to keep track of one another. This is a captivating memoir of Sudan and a powerful portrait of war as seen through the eyes of children. And it is, in the end, an inspiring and unforgettable tribute to the tenacity of even the youngest human spirits.

PublicAffairs, 9781586483883, 311pp.

Publication Date: June 13, 2006

About the Author

Alephonsion and Benson Deng, and their cousin Benjamin Ajak were relocated from the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya to the United States as part of an international refugee relief program. They arrived in 2001. Now all in their mid-twenties, Benjamin, Benson, and Alephonsion live in San Diego, California.

Conversation Starters from

  1. What do Judy Bernstein and her son find most striking about Benson, Alepho, and Benjamin when they arrive in San Diego? What would be your own reaction if you were meeting the boys during their first few days in America? Would you find it frustrating? Exciting? What advice would you give the boys' for adapting to American society?
  2. What did you find most troubling about the boys' experiences? Which moments struck you as particularly emotionally moving? Why?
  3. How do the voices of Benson, Alepho, and Benjamin differ? How are they similar? Do they have distinguishing characteristics? Was there a writer who you felt most connected to?
  4. Benson asserts that hunger "makes you like a wild animal." While enduring years of starvation, how do the boys maintain their humanity? If you were involved in a similarly desperate situation, what would you do to preserve your compassion?
  5. Why was education so important to the boys—especially to Benson? How does the boys' desire to learn compare to young people in America who you know?
  6. Benson and Alepho have heard some outlandish rumors about America. What were they, and what perhaps inspired their formation? Are there countries or cultures that we make similarly misinformed judgments about today?
  7. What are the boys' attitudes toward women? Compare their perceptions of African women to our perceptions of American women.
  8. During their journeys, Benson, Alepho, and Benjamin each meet many people—some fellow refugees and some not. Which of these secondary characters have the most influence on the writers' stories? Which leave the strongest impressions on you?
  9. How do you think the boys' age and lack of guardians affected their travels? Was it always to their detriment? How might their experiences have been different had the boys been older?
  10. How do the refugees help each other despite living in confining environments of absolute poverty? How do they manage to assert some control over their own lives?
  11. Why do you think there so few "Lost Girls"?
  12. The efforts of aid groups like the UN are sometimes a mixed blessing to the refugees. Why is this? What do you think could be done so that their influence would be wholly helpful?