Debut fiction by French-Canadian journalist Courtemanche tells of star-crossed lovers caught in the maelstrom of Rwanda’s 1994 civil war.
Most North Americans had never heard of Rwanda before the country erupted into violence and genocide in the early 1990s, so Courtemanche has to spend a fair amount of time sketching in the background to his tale. A tiny African country nestled between Tanzania, Uganda, and the Congo on the shores of Lake Kivu, Rwanda was once a Belgian colony but has been independent since 1962. Its populace is overwhelmingly Hutu, but those of the minority Tutsi tribe have traditionally formed a kind of aristocracy and were greatly favored by the Belgians (who entrusted much of the colonial administration to them). The author writes from the perspective of a French-Canadian journalist named Bernard Valcourt. Sent to the Rwandan capital of Kigali to set up a TV station, Bernard falls in love with Gentille, a strikingly beautiful young waitress at his hotel. A Hutu of mixed ancestry (her great-grandfather purposefully arranged marriages for his children to Tutsis so that their descendants could “pass”), Gentille now suffers discrimination from the Hutus on account of her Tutsi features. But this is more than a story of confused loyalties: The Rwandan government is teetering on collapse (partly because of rumors that the Hutu president is dying if AIDS), and the authorities plot to avert a coup by fomenting a pogrom of the Tutsis. You know the rest from the headlines. Bernard, caught in the thick of it, abandons his journalist’s scent for chaos and tries to flee the country with Gentille, who is almost certain to be massacred if she stays behind.
A finely textured account that manages to infuse private adventures and travails with the true depth and weight of history.