Heart of Fire
Author: Senait Mehari
Translator: Christine Lo
Original language: German
Published by: Profile Books, 2006
As a child soldier Senait saw the atrocities of war at first hand. Born in 1974 to an Ethiopian mother and an Eritrean father, Senait was abandoned as a baby and spent her early years in a state orphanage before being returned to her father. As the onset of the War of Liberation threatened the family, her father made the shocking decision to ‘give’ Senait (aged six) and two of her stepsisters to the guerrilla troops of the ELF (Eritrean Liberation Front). Senait endured years of hunger, sickness and countless beatings as a child soldier until 1983, when her uncle arranged a daring escape to Sudan. The girls lived in Khartoum for four years, but were then summoned to Germany by their father where he was living as an asylum seeker.
Adjusting to life in Germany was difficult – western society was alien and their father greeted his children with violence and abuse. At 14 Senait left home for a life on the streets of Hamburg. Working as a model and a waitress she put herself through school, bought herself a cheap keyboard and began composing music.
Now a successful artist, Senait has not forgotten the horrors of her childhood, but will not let them defeat her. This is the moving and inspirational testimony of a woman determined to survive and succeed.
Writers in Translation organized two talks to celebrate the publication of Heart of Fire - at the Goethe Institute and the Stratford Library.