Famed children’s author Linda Sue Park published A Long Walk to Water in 2010. Based on the true story of Salva Dut, a Sudanese “Lost Boy,” it interweaves the tales of Dut with those of a fictional young girl named Nya. Dut’s story takes place in 1985 when he is eleven years old, and Nya’s takes place in 2008 when she is of the same age. The two stories intersect when Dut returns to Sudan as a young man and helps orchestrate the building of a well.
When asked what inspired her to write this novel, Park told Publisher’s Weekly, “My inspiration came directly from the protagonist of the book, Salva Dut, who is a family friend. It was my husband who got to know him first in 2004. [Her husband, journalist Ben Dobbins, had been interviewing Salva in relation to his charity, Water for Sudan.] And then in meeting Salva several times, I just was so amazed by his story. I kept telling everyone I knew about him, and it finally dawned on me that if I wrote this story I could tell a whole lot of people at once.” Salva had written a memoir of sorts already, but it was more of a list of events. Park relied on that for the plot and imagined dialogue for the scenes and gave the story a narrative arc. She spoke directly with Salva and did copious amounts of research on the Lost Boys.
For Nya’s story, Park explained how she and Dobbins were going to go to South Sudan with Salva; since the political situation was not stable, the charitable organization had to limit the size of the group, and she was kicked off. Dobbins took photographs and, as a journalist, was able to capture the contemporary situation; a videographer took video footage. Park admitted, “It was not as good as being there. It is the first and probably the only time I will write a book about someplace I haven’t been. Normally that would be a deal-breaker for me. But I felt so strongly that I wanted to tell this story, and because I had the best first-person memoir that I could get, I felt that it was okay. Sometimes I even felt like I was a typist transcribing Salva’s story.”
Upon its publication, A Long Walk to Water garnered positive reviews from critics and audiences alike. It was ultimately nominated for the Kentucky Blue Grass Award as well as the Maine Student Book Award. Publishers Weekly praised Park for “employing well-chosen details and a highly atmospheric setting to underscore both children's struggles to survive.” BookPage called the book “a touching narrative about strife and survival on a scale most American readers will never see.” It was also a New York Times bestseller in 2010.