A child’s view of one of history’s most chilling instances of genocide.
Born in 1956 in southwestern Rwanda, Mukasonga (Our Lady of the Nile, 2014, etc.) has lived in France for most of her life, working as a social worker while writing memoirs, novels, and short stories. “I wasn’t only Tutsi,” she recalls of the ethnic turmoil that made her a refugee, “I was an Inyenzi, one of those cockroaches they’d expelled from the livable part of Rwanda, and perhaps from the human race.” Such people, she writes later, were “fit only to be crushed like cockroaches, with one stomp. But they preferred to watch us die slowly.” The “they” in question are not just the Hutus who attacked their Tutsi neighbors, but also neighboring nations, aid workers, diplomats, and others who stood by and did nothing. It may surprise readers to learn that Mukasonga is not writing of the later, infamous Rwandan genocide of the 1990s but instead of the post-colonial power struggle that precipitated it; the ingredients were the same, with long-lingering resentment over the Tutsis’ relative privileges in a stratified society. Her point of view, however, is more personal and less synoptic; she protests that her father “was not an aristocrat with vast herds of cows,” but because he could read and write and was an accountant, to say nothing of his ethnicity, he presented a target. As her story unfolds, we learn that 37 of her family members died, along with perhaps 1 million of her fellow Tutsis. It is a harrowing tale that is only the beginning of a larger story of murder and division. As she writes toward the end, Rwanda, a place of stunning beauty, “is also the land of tears, and the roads we travel take us on a long journey through horror and grief.”
A thoughtful, sobering firsthand account of the refugee experience, a story that speaks to readers far beyond the African highlands.