Four years after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, a long-exiled high school history teacher returns home to write a play about what happened, unaware of his father’s role in the atrocity.
In 1998, ten African writers visited Rwanda to observe and write about the aftermath of the genocide, in which members of the Hutu majority massacred hundreds of thousands of Rwandans, mostly of Tutsi ethnicity. Among the literature that came out of that experience is Diop’s (Kaveena, 2016, etc.) novel, originally published in 2000. Divided into four parts, the book alternates between fictionalized first-person accounts of the genocide and the story of Cornelius Uvimana, who fled the country years before and returns believing his only surviving family member is a beloved uncle. After arriving, however, he learns a horrifying truth: his father, a Hutu who Cornelius thought was killed for criticizing the government in the past, was secretly responsible for organizing a massacre at a technical school in Murambi, where Cornelius was born, and is actually still alive. Among the 50,000 to 60,000 murdered were Cornelius’ Tutsi mother and siblings; his father, meanwhile, has fled Rwanda. Soon Cornelius is back in Murambi, trying to come to terms with the fact that he is “the son of a monster.” Diop is equally effective at illuminating the political and the personal. Though never didactic, he manages to cover everything from the role of the French government to the decadeslong history of Hutus murdering Tutsis. Meanwhile, readers may well find the harrowing first-person stories—told by everyone from victims to Cornelius’ father—difficult to shake. Most effectively rendered is Cornelius himself, whose struggle to deal with the reality of his father’s actions is as moving as it is complex. As one character tells him: “after a genocide, the real problem is not the victims but the executioners.”
A powerful contribution to the literature of the Rwandan genocide.