Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Alek: From Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel

Alek: From Sudanese Refugee to International SupermodelAlek: From Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel by Alek Wek
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had some time to spend before a meeting in DC, and decided to take a walk. It was then that I happened upon the clearance rack that was outside the World Bank bookstore. In the clearance rank, I found the book Alek: My Life from Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel. At $3.00, the book was a steal.

The fashion angle is what drew me to Alek: My Life from Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel initially. Alek Wek is a trailblazing model. Before her, there had been many models of color, but most of them had “acceptable” features, that is, European-like features, but with darker skin. Alek Wek is said to have an “African” look; however, she rightly notes that there is no typical African look. Appallingly, as you key in “Alek Wek” in Google, one of the top results is “Alek Wek is ugly.”

My fascination and curiosity about world cultures are what drew me into the book. Alek Wek is from southern Sudan, and is an ethnic Dinka. She relates many customs of her Dinka culture. The cow is central to Dinka culture: in this way, I was reminded how central the cow is to villagers in India.

As an aside, she talks about what happens to the clothes that we dump into collection boxes.

The civil war between Arabs in northern Sudan and blacks in southern Sudan goes back decades, but never had the high visibility of the human rights catastrophe in Darfur. Alek Wek and her family fled their town to find shelter in a village where distant relatives lived, but had to trek to another village after learning through bush telegraph that fighting had spread to their original destination. She later bluffed her way to Khartoum, and from Khartoum, she went to London, where she was discovered in a London park.

In the second half of the book, Alek Wek discusses her career as a model. Her big breakthrough was making the cover of Elle, and she talks about the fight to put her on the cover. In the last quarter of the book, she talks about using her fame to bring awareness to the humanitarian crisis in southern Sudan. The book concludes with an emotional homecoming to Sudan.

Alek Wek comes across as a well-grounded person, and this can be attributed to the influence of her father and her resourceful mother.

I hope that I haven’t shared too much of Alek: My Life from Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel to dissuade you from reading the book. On the other hand, I hope that I’ve whetted your interest in reading the book.

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