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Scholastique Mukasonga

Author of Our Lady of the Nile

14 Works 761 Members 41 Reviews 1 Favorited
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This is a challenging work for an English-speaking Westerner not due to any innovation of form or use of language but because of how it submerses the reader in the context of Rwanda’s social, political, and geographical divisions as they played out in the 1970s without much in the way of direct explanations. Assuming one has just a fairly basic familiarity with Rwanda - colonization, Hutu/Tutsi divide, 1994 genocide - this creates, or at least it did in my case, a distancing effect, as unfamiliar Rwandan terms and references and history are encountered, yet by the end it seems to have rather cleverly all come together and produced a new level of understanding that, going back to the start of the book, finds one able to appreciate the earlier stories in a brighter light, knowing for instance how different characters serve as representations of different sectors of society - this one is Hutu Power politicians in the capital, this one is the northern military power base, this one represents the politically flexible financial elite, this one the historical responsibility of the Western powers for Rwanda’s ethnic divisions and that one those powers’ contemporary willful blindness, etc. (“‘We’re so close to heaven,’ whispers Mother Superior”, from the opening paragraph set at the high altitude school, has a far more sinister sound the second time of reading.)

That this is combined with the traditional coming-of-age school setting story quite successfully is a terrific achievement. Although I’ve been aware of the book’s existence for years, since its American publication in translation in 2014, it was only its shortlisting for the Republic of Consciousness 2022 prize after being published by a British small press that I got around to reading it, another reason to be glad I follow this prize.
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lelandleslie | 16 other reviews | Feb 24, 2024 |
(Read in French)

Bewitching collection of interlinked stories about the clash between tradition and modernity in colonial Rwanda. Mukasonga shows how colonialism can never be done “correctly”, no matter how you try to put a benevolent face on it. Christianity, even in its platitudes of universal love, becomes corrupted by racial hierarchy; the supposedly objective practice of scientific research becomes a conduit for the glory of academics, and turns the colonized society into a Petri dish for study. No matter what promises the colonizer makes, the system is built for their benefit, and cannot function any other way.

What makes this book more interesting is the way it portrays the colonized’s struggle for agency in a system that is designed to suck them dry - the whites that came to the area did bring with them advanced technology, education, agricultural techniques, etc. As a colonized person, is it better to fight against the colonizer, or do your best to take what you can from their system, rise in the ranks, and maybe make change from the top down? No matter how clearly this dream can be seen as the false hope that it is, it is still almost impossible not to be seduced by power, and be bought off to do power’s bidding.
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hdeanfreemanjr | 7 other reviews | Jan 29, 2024 |
it's a novel set in a Catholic school in Rwanda in the mid-70's, where upper-middle class young ladies go to improve their chances with marriage and career. Most of the girls are Hutu, but there are a couple of Tutsi girls allowed under the quota.

I think this is the first novel set in Rwanda that I've read, and it did help me get more background and understanding of the country. I wasn't completely enthralled by the writing, but it was OK.

The strength of this book is the contrast between the schoolgirls, who seem like normal teen-age girls; and the background of impending war and genocide. Plus the dash of colonialism.… (more)
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banjo123 | 16 other reviews | Oct 21, 2023 |
Scholastique Mukasonga was born in Rwanda in 1956, a few years before the pogroms against the Tutsis began. In 1959, her family was forcibly deported to a refugee camp in the scrublands. Despite the harsh conditions and the government quota on the number of Tutsis allowed to attend secondary school, Mukasonga was able to attend the Lycée Notre-Dame-de-Citeaux in Kigali. She eventually became a social worker in order to help less fortunate women in the country. In 1973 when all Tutsi schoolchildren were expelled from school and all Tutsi government employees were driven out of their jobs, she fled to Burundi. She moved to France in 1992. In 1994 37 members of her family were killed in the genocide. It was 2004 before she felt safe enough to return for a visit, and the trip inspired her to begin writing of her experiences in a series of autobiographical works, and then the novel Our Lady of the Nile.

The novel tells the story of Virginia and her friend, Veronica, two Tutsi girls allowed to attend the Lycée of the Lady of the Nile under the quota. Each chapter is a vignette in the life there, that slowly build to the climax of the girls' fates. One chapter describes the installation of the Virgin Mary statue at the purported source of the Nile, after which the school is named. Another describes the Belgian queen's visit to the school. Despite the seeming disjointedness of the narrative and the unemotional tone of the writing, I was filled with dread as I read. Although the novel never makes explicit the date of the action, I think it was the late 70s. In 2019 a film adaptation was made, by director Atiq Rahimi.
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labfs39 | 16 other reviews | Oct 8, 2023 |

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Works
14
Members
761
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Rating
3.9
Reviews
41
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63
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11
Favorited
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