Our lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga

 

OurLadyoftheNile

 

Our lady of the Nile by Scolastique Mukasonga

Rwandan fiction

Original title – Notre Dame du Nil

Translator – Melaine Mauther

Source – Library book

I was rather shocked when last week I popped into the main branch of our Library in Chesterfield and saw this on a stand as last time I looked for an archipelago book my library hadn’t any so this was a real shock as it was on my to get list after earlier this year I reviewed Cockroaches by Mukasonga left me with a sense I had to get to this book at some point . Scholastique Mukasonga has lived in france since 1992 and worked as a social worker in Caen .

There were only two Rwandans on the entire teaching staff of the Lycee of Our Lady of the Nile: Sister Lydwine, and the Kinyarwanda teacher ,naturally. Sister Lydwine taught History and Geography, but she made a clear distinction between the two subjects: History meant Europe , and Geography, Africa.

Maybe they should have been Taught their own history !!

Now I for one am not a huge reader of boarding school books , even back when I was young they never grabbed me . But this is a school story that shows that a place can reflect the country it is part of the school in the book Our lady of the Nile is on the high on a hill by the origins of the Mighty Nile river  and is a private school  the sort where young girls are sent to become women  , where the staff are nearly all from outside Rwanda Nuns and fathers from the Catholic church . The book unfolds with each chapter about a particular girl but as the book progress like the year in the school we are following the life of the girls in the school turns darker. The problems start with a limiting on the number of Tutsi . This leads to tension in the school where some girls start to accuse people of being Tutsi due to their nose ,even the virgin Mary statue is a Tutsi statue. This slice of Rwanda in the 1980’s when the book is set a number of years before the genocide that the writer herself lost 27 members of her family.

“Modesta” said Glorisoa . “Have you taken a good look at the Virgin’s face ”

“Which one ?”

“Our lady of the Nile, the statue .”

“Yes and ?Sure it’s not like the other Marys . It’s Black the whites put black makeup on her . Probably to please us Rwandans , but her son  in the chapel remains white ”

“But did you notice the nose? It’s a straight little nose, a Tutsi nose ”

“They took a white virgin , painted it black and kept that white nose ”

“Yes but now she’s black , it’s a Tutsi nose ”

The Tutsi nose that cause a spilt and fights in the school !!

I enjoyed this as much if not more so than Cockroaches there is almost a freedom Mukasonga found in the fiction of  the event that lead up to the Genocide and using the school with its catholic nuns and priest  teaching the elite who are all from the outside Rwanda  barring two maybe don’t see what happens just under the nose where bullying and the inequality in even getting to the school all point to the undercurrents that lead to the uprising . The translation has kept a number of french words in place like Lycee (french for high school ), for me it kept a sense of place as most of the nuns seem to be from French-speaking Belgium , which was the country that ran Rwanda before Independence . This capture the sense of a place boiling under those racial tensions that had been simmering til the country boiled over in 1994. I was reminded of the Ulster of my youth in some ways where the tension between the sides came out in painting things and murals and of course the violence of the troubles but also a story my late step mother told me of a friend hers where he was stopped in Belfast in the seventies one evening as asked was he protestant or catholic , he said Jewish at which point he was as Protestant Jewish or Catholic Jewish , the point is that like Gloriosa the Bully in this book is like all  bullys will be violent what ever like the Nose in the book sometimes you have to be on one side or another even if you are not !!

 

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Cockroaches by Scholastique Mukasonga

cockroachesNewRH

Cockroaches by Scholastique Mukasonga

Rwandan Memoir

Original title –  Inyenzi ou les cafards

Translator – Jordan stump

Source – Personal copy

Mukasonga grew up in rwanda as part of the smaller Tutsi tribe, she luckily left and went to live in France before the 94 genocide that in its wake killed 27 of her family member that were unable to escape. This is the first of a triolgy of autobiographical works the other two being Barefoot woman and L’lguifou . her first novel which followed these three books Out lady of the Nile won one of the biggest French language African Lit prizes the Ahmadou Kourouma prize and also a number of french book prizes.

The first Pogroms against the tutsi broke out on All saints ‘ day , 1959. The machinery of the genocide had been all set into motion. it would never stop.until the final soultion it would never stop

Needless to say , the anti-tutsi violence didn’t spare Butare province.I was three years old and that first images of terror were etched into my memory.i remember

The stark reality of the world she grew up in from her first memory .Also note the day the catholic church had a part in this in a small way !!

 

The book follows Her life from the early 1950’s her childhood and is told in vignettes through the years. Far from being an ideal childhood , as is the case with genocide the undercurrent of the problems have been there since the start of her life when even as a three-year old she saw violence . The thing we also see is her fathers drive to have his kids learn ,which as we see later on is a reason that Scholastique herself managed to get away from her homeland.We see the first stepping up as the family have to move of their good land on to poor land the echoes here are so much to the Jews being moved in Nazis era. They are moved as the Hutus wave machetes , this also remind me of those horrific picture of people having limbs hacked of by these machetes and having to struggle on with their lives. This is an insight into her family the opening lines touched me where she mentioned family members “For all those of Nyamata who are named in this book and the many more who are not ,

for the few who have the sorrow of surviving.

For a long time I had no news of my parents , my brother, my sisters who’d stayed behind in Nyamata. Writing them was out of the question. Letters from Burundi were considered suspicous and could cause their addresses serious trouble. I kept an ear out for rumors and news from Rwanda. I urgently questioned anyone who’d dared to go there. Not until Andre was in Senegal could he get a letter through to our parents to them of our new lives. Evidently mail from West Africa wasn’t thought to be dangerous

I was reminded of my old Bosnian friend that was unable to speak to his mother , I’d feel so grateful at times .

 

Some books are testaments to a time and need to be read to understand a time and the history. I was reminded of the opening of world at war where we follow a camera through the village of Ordour-Sur-Glane the french village where the was a brutal massacre and the village was left as ut was destroyed at the end of the war as a testament . this book about the Tutsi genocide is another work that needs to be read. Those horrific scenes on the news at the time are long gone but as this book shows the wounds are still there not just the physical ones the mental ones this is a prelude to the violence but also like the build up to the world war two the undercurrents to this conflict can be seen in the early years of Scholastique life . The conflict grew after independence with the events of april , may and june 94 being the  explosive and brutal end that saw maybe a million people killed in two months . So this book need s sit along the works of writers Like Elie Wisel or Primo Levi as those touched and saw the violence in their time. So this is the story of one of those cockroaches as the Hutu called the Tutsi in that time .

 

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