You can read on The Wall Street journal a review by Sam Sacks about my novel ‘Our Lady of the Nile‘,
published by Archipelago books.
Read the review on The Wall Street journal site
Like Estebanico, the young women who attend the elite Rwandan boarding school in Scholastique Mukasonga’s « Our Lady of the Nile » (Archipelago, 244 pages, $18) have two names. The name of one character is Mutamuriza, but she goes by Virginia at the Hutu-dominated Our Lady of the Nile, where she is one of the few Tutsis permitted to enroll. Virginia’s mother believes that, as the teachers are Europeans and only French is spoken, « it’s as if you’re no longer Hutu or Tutsi, but have taken on another ‘ethnicity’: what the Belgians used to refer to as civilized. »
It is an unavailing hope. Ms. Mukasonga’s novel (gracefully translated by Melanie Mauthner from the French) takes place 15 years before the Hutu genocide of the Tutsi, and the hatreds that led to the 1994 massacre split the novel in two. In part, this is a good-humored yearbook of the adventures and scandals among the all-girl school’s precocious teenage charges, where the greatest peril to morality is the arrival of a male teacher with long blond hair. But soon the school, abetted by its hypocritical administrators (including those Belgian civilizers), becomes a petri dish for Hutu militancy, and normal adolescent pranks take on horrifying consequences. The novel’s abrupt transition from a naïve coming-of-age story to a violent tragedy is jarring—though surely it doesn’t even begin to convey the shock of the reality.