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Unknown: A Refugee’s Story

Akuch Kuol Anyieth

  • awardShortlisted, National Biography Award, 2023
  • A moving, confronting and ultimately uplifting story about a young girl’s escape, with her family, from war-torn South Sudan to Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, and then to Australia.

    In 1996, when Akuch Kuol Anyieth is five, her mother flees to Kakuma with her children, intent on finding safety and freedom for her family, while her husband stays behind in South Sudan to fight in the civil war. The family spends nine years in the camp, eking out an existence amidst famine, disease, unbearable heat, and chronic violence. Despite their suffering, Akuch never loses hope or her sense of humour. She’s a bright student who loves learning and does well at the local school.

    In 2005, the family is finally granted a family humanitarian visa to Australia. They are on the way to paradise. But the reality of their new lives in Melbourne is complex. As Akuch’s brother’s behaviour spirals out of control, the family find themselves isolated and struggling with various forms of racism.

    But Akuch is determined. She learns English from scratch, excels in her educational achievements, and tries to live the life of a regular teenager. Above all she does everything she can to help her family emerge from the bonds of violence.

    Akuch Kuol Anyieth’s Unknown is a remarkable memoir. It’s a homage to the strength of her mother in protecting her family against all the odds, a story of sadness, anger, humour, determination, survival and love.


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    Akuch Kuol Anyieth
    About the Author

    Akuch Kuol Anyieth is a graduate researcher in crime, justice and legal studies. Her research engages with masculinity and domestic violence, examining customary law, pre- and post-migration experiences of South Sudanese families and how they adapt to the western rule of law in the diaspora. She is a frequent contributor to discussions about her...

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    Text publication date:
    3 May 2022
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    Praise for Akuch Kuol Anyieth

    ‘This is a compelling story about what it means to be a black refugee in Australia, told with fierce intelligence and urgency. Everyone who has worked with, befriended or cares about our 'unknown’ refugees should read Akuch’s book.’

    ‘Heartbreaking. Raw. Real. Unknown is the story every Australian needs to know.’

    ‘A riveting, devastating, and inspiring book, uncompromising in its pursuit of the truth, and in conveying the lived experience of a South Sudanese family impacted by the traumas of war, displacement, years of limbo, and the challenges of emigration, but also healed by enduring family love, mutual support, courage and a fierce determination, against many odds, to create a new life. Anyone who reads this book, will come out of it a better, more informed, more understanding, and more hopeful person.’

    ‘Akuch’s story took me back to Africa, but with her strength and spirit she has become a remarkable Australian. Unknown offers an extraordinary insight into the refugee experience. I could not put it down.’

    Unknown is a spellbinding, incandescent book that I simply could not put down. Its power and amazing grace lie in making me realise that I was truly blind, but now, with the unsparing acuity of Akuch Anyieth’s words, perhaps now I can see. Brutal, honest and devastatingly topical, Uknown needs to be on every school reading list. This is more than a refugee story. It is a passionate appeal for justice, mercy and peace. An absolute triumph.’

    ‘Akuch Kuol Anyieth’s story is unwavering in its power, insight and grace. A riveting, necessary book.’

    ‘A remarkable story told by a remarkable woman. This book demands readers to bear witness to the reality of black refugee experience in Australia. A true testament to the strength of a family, told with honesty, clarity, and love.’

    ‘An engagingly written and insightful story of love and trauma…Unflinching in its honesty.’

    ‘Akuch’s trauma is evident, but so is her resilience and her desire to make a difference…this book too will make an impact on understanding the refugee experience in this country.’

    ‘A haunting, behind-the-headlines refugee tale. [Akuch Kuol Anyieth] charts in measured, vivid writing a most extraordinary life…In many ways, she’s bravely examining the contrasting worlds she’s experienced, with determination and remarkable poise.’

    ‘[A] powerful book…a book of advocacy. It breaks the silence around the African-Australian experience, which has long enabled systemic discrimination and racism towards South Sudanese refugees in Australia…Ferociously intelligent…addressing the problems of gender, race and migration in Australia today. [Anyieth] represent[s] a new generation of writers engaging with the trauma of their and their parents’ pasts…not quite belonging in a country that is still not reconciled to its history of violence and dispossession…star[ing] a certain kind of Australia in the face and demand[ing] to be heard.’

    ‘Powerful and unflinchingly honest.’

    ‘An extraordinary insight into Sudanese culture… [and] an outstanding memoir that captures the incredible resilience of a family forced to abandon everything they know. It offers the opportunity to reflect on and unearth our own prejudices and discriminatory behaviour against refugees.’

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