ReadersMagnet Review features The Face of Hunger: Reflections on a Famine in Ethiopia by Dr. Byron Conner. The book is all about the 1983-1985 Ethiopian famine.
“I was dismayed and horror struck that from time to time children would actually die in our feeding program while on the compound. They would just die suddenly while in their mother’s arms. THE SIGNAL FOR THIS WAS THE ABRUPT WAILING OF A MOTHER WHO HAD JUST LOST HER CHILD.”
The Face of Hunger: Reflections on a Famine in Ethiopia is a firsthand account of the 1983-1985 famine that hit the country and left thousands dead. Dr. Byron Conner wrote the book to record the poverty and despair he witnessed, especially in the town of Gimbie where he managed the town’s hospital. In the book, Conner also transcribed the efforts of the international community and various humanitarian organizations and of course his own transformation. What started as a missionary trip with his family became as a three-year stay that forever changed their lives as well as the lives of the community that adopted them.
Conner’s journal takes us to their very own journey and transformation. From a simple missionary family traveling to an alien continent, to a group of people that has come to embraced Africa as their home, absorbing their language, culture, and more importantly the richness of their existence that is only made bounty by their appreciation of life despite the daily struggle with hunger and poverty they have witnessed.
The book offers a different perspective. The story is from an outsider’s view and through the eyes of both a missionary and medical person. Dr. Conner did not merely record the obvious landscape of a land torn by hunger but also provided us with tangible details on the day-to-day horrors of famine.
The strength of Byron Conner’s book lies in its straightforwardness and simplicity. It is bereft of any pretentions and romanticism that oftentimes spoil a memoir. While there were attempts made to subscribe to usual style of narration, the author settled comfortably using his own voice, his own phase, and unique structure. Because Dr. Conner is a medical person, his narrative borders on scientific perspective and an objective portrayal of how an entire nation, with its different sectors, comes to grip with the crisis they share. This can be observed through his detailed transcriptions of the following:The community of Addis Ababa where he and his family stayed for most of their mission
1. The community of Addis Ababa where he and his family stayed for most of their mission
2. His critique on the Marxist Government headed by Mengistu Haile Mariam
3. The efforts of the Ethiopian church workers as well as their limitations
4. His report on Ethiopia’s health care system (the absence of vaccines and medical supplies).
5. His backgrounder on the country’s internal conflicts and his sympathy for the displaced natives
This is on top of Byron Conner’s every day medical and missionary work not only in one village but also in communities surrounding Addis Ababa and even in the northern province of Tigray particularly in Makele. Makele is one of the cities badly hit by famine and cholera.
Dr. Conner’s vivid description of what he saw and experienced in Ethiopia is what made the book so compelling.
The 1983-1985 Crisis in Ethiopia was one of the biggest human tragedies. It is bigger than Addis Ababa and certainly more complex than the multitudes of internal conflicts spread across the African nation. While Dr. Byron Conner’s The Face of Hunger is an honest account of that particular crisis, most of the chapters dealt with the medical aspect of the crisis- the disease, the lack of medicines and the absence of doctors and medical support.
Nevertheless, in that supposed limitation, Dr. Conner was able to present a different, more morbid face of hunger. The absence of vaccines and immunization programs is clear state abandonment. The reality that thousands are literally dying and begging for medical care is a disturbing metaphor for hunger.
Overall, Dr. Byron Conner’s The Face of Hunger is a very important read for all those who wish to know about the 1983-1985 famine of Ethiopia. While there have been hundreds of published materials that tackled the infamous African crisis, Dr. Byron Conner offers a less arduous journey through his honest and smooth structuring narrative. The Face of Hunger does not attempt to subscribe to the usual dark and grim writing style to an already tragic story.
The Face of Hunger, because it focuses mostly on the author’s medical and missionary work, offers a fresh and somewhat comforting, smooth-sailing examination of what really transpired in the African nation during those three years of famine. Others may fault Mr. Conner for seemingly lacking the “rage” in his reportage of this dark human tragedy but there lies the uniqueness of his narrative. The Face of Hunger, above, all offers hope, triumph over adversity, and celebration of faith, both in humanity and in his own personal virtues.
The Face of Hunger is a book that every missionary should examine. It is a book every person with the desire to understand suffering and wish to embrace hope, should read. ReadersMagnet Book Review recommends this book.