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Ors of the school in the interminable rainy season Friendships desires hatred political fights incitation to racial violence persecutions The school soon becomes a fascinating existential microcosm of the true 1970s Rwanda. I ve always thought that choosing a good topic was a important skill for non fiction writers And implicitly at least I ve thought the same thing for novelists and poets I m much less likely to read books that just mull over the same material Well Mukasonga chose a topic that s both very appealing to me nunsploitation and objectively worthwhile colonialism politics their awful effects on each other But I feel uncomfortable saying that this counts in the book s favor Mukasonga I gather lives in France in exile from Rwanda which she fled due to the 1997 genocide there Her previous works have been autobiographies incomprehensibly they haven t been translated So it s not like she chose her topic Apologies for the cliche but it chose her Having almost settled this discomfort I was free to notice the way Our Lady uses French school literature s forms and modes while showing up the comparative unimportance of its traditional topic viz white Frenchmen Like Larbaud Mukasonga s book is a series of stories which aren t linked together narratively but do give us a nice panorama of the school She has the same wistful distant tone as for instance Alain Fournier This is doubly smart her book might look completely alien but she can draw European and now American or British readers in with these comforting forms And then one of the students invites militiamen in to beat rape and kill Tutsi girls So less comforting Unfortunately the book also feels like a first novel which it is The characters are forever reminding each other in dialogue of things they obviously already know the dialogue is often stilted there s a bit too much anthropology And then my white guilt kicks in and I wonder is this a convention in Great Lakes narrative that I m just too ignorant to understand And then the guilt kicks in again because why should I have to judge Mukasonga s work according to different standards just because she s from Rwanda And then I cycle back to my ignorance which makes it important for her to explain how important cows are in that society But shouldn t I know that already Isn t it unfair that we expect writers from Africa and Asia to explain their worlds to us and write well about those worlds while American authors can focus entirely on the writing well And so on and so on But this circle of thoughts aside this is a charming book which takes an entirely justified shocking turn and even before that turn it s very smart on colonialism the ambiguities of imported religions and the horrors of a girl s school All of this comes together wonderfully well in the symbol of Our Lady On the other hand most people will find the dialogue grating and the anthropologising might reuire of an apology than I can give it Now if only someone would translate her autobiographical works or I should get better at French

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Notre Dame du Nil

For her most recent work and first novel Notre Dame du Nil originally published in March 2012 with Gallimard in French Mukasonga immerses us in a school for young girls called Notre Dame du Nil The girls are sent to this h. Bringing a surprisingly light touch to the material Mukasonga investigates the disasters of Rwandan history building from the colonial period and culminating in the internal strife of genocide in 1994 in the microcosm of an all girls Catholic school in the 80s And so ominous political undercurrents are just one thread running beneath a web of other stories misplaced veneration of old colonial powers Rwandan folklore lurking at the fringes of official Christianity gorillas in the mountains and even a fantastic tangent on Isis not ISIS worship by perhaps crazed white ex colonials Isis tangents are generally to be encouraged I think as are folkloric impulses and the strange religious tensions between the school s namesake black painted Virgin Mary at the head of the Nile and the old believers in spirits and rituals are a great backdrop None of this can ever really explain the perhaps incomprehensible factors that eventually brought about genocide and Mukasonga doesn t really try to get at a complete picture by limiting the the scope to a single school and handful of teenage characters she s able to keep that thread as a fable on the manipulation of power but it still leaves me less fully informed than aware of how little I actually know about African history Regardless this is a fantastic funny intriguing discomfiting entry point into that conversation

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Igh school perched on the ridge of the Nile in order to become the feminine elite of the country and to escape the dangers of the outside world The book is a prelude to the Rwandan genocide and unfolds behind the closed do. Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastiue Mukasonga translated from the French by Melanie Mauthner uses the backdrop of a girls school in Rwanda to underscore the seeds of the Rwandan genocideOur Lady of the Nile is a high school for daughters of elite politically prominent Rwandan families The school is situated on a mountain top surrounded by a brick wall an iron gate and armed guards who patrol the perimeter The ostensible purpose of the setting is to preserve the girls in a state of physical and moral purity to retain their eligibility for suitable marriages The girls are admitted to the school according to a uota of Hutus vs Tutsis two Tutsis for every twenty Hutus The school is a microcosm of Rwandan society The girls play out on a small scale the larger conflicts plaguing their society The two sides bicker and feud The dominant Hutus spread malicious rumors about the Tutsis by engaging in othering and denigrating and dehumanizing their perceived enemies Gloriosa the daughter of a prominent Hutu fuels the simmering hatred and distrust with lies and innuendos The Tutsis represented by Veronica and Virginia become increasingly isolated and fearful until the final crescendo when the atrocities and slaughter occurThrough these young girls Mukasonga highlights some fairly common behaviors among a people The majority don t go to the extreme of fabricating lies or spreading vicious rumors about their opponents But they allow themselves to be manipulated by leaders who have the loudest voices and who seem to have the upper hand politically They suspend disbelief and swallow whatever lies they are told to gain acceptance by the dominant group Meanwhile external forces who can educate the girls on the values of inclusivity and non discrimination suander the opportunity by fidgeting on the sidelines and allowing the tensions to escalate When Gloriosa damages a statue of the Virgin Mary and fabricates a lie that Tutsis destroyed the statue and that they plan to attack the school she sets a series of events in motion These include the imprisonment and torture of an innocent Tutsi the involvement of the military to protect the school a purge of the Tutsis violence to people and property and the rape and murder of Tutsi girls and their sympathizers When confronted by her friend that everything she has set in motion is based on lies Gloriosa replies It s not lies its politics So there you have it Once again truth is being sacrificed to political expediency Mukasonga has written a compelling novel illustrating some of the forces that culminate with the Rwandan genocide She weaves several elements in this short novel the impact of colonialism Rwandan folklore and superstitions indigenous traditions hovering on the outskirts of Christianity internalized racism hatred of the other economic tensions an abusive priest a white man living his exotic fantasies in Africa and political corruption The picture is not all bleak however There is hope Amid the horror Mukasonga shows that there are those among the girls who know the truth and who risk their lives to save others On the surface this is a novel about girls in a Catholic high school in Rwanda But beneath the surface lies a whole world that explores one of the saddest chapters in human historyRecommendedMy reviews are also available at wwwtamaraaghajaffarcom


10 thoughts on “Notre Dame du Nil

  1. says:

    There is no better lycee than Our Lady of the Nile Nor is there any higherWe're so close to heaven whispers Mother Superior The school year coi

  2. says:

    A story of a Catholic girls school in the mountains of Rwanda set apart from society but not protected from the racial tensions that lead up to the genocide The conflicts between Tutsi and Hutu have always existed and at the time this novel is set the Belgian government has attempted to mandate mixing by reuiring a certain percentage of Tutsi girls to be at the school But they are not treated the same at least

  3. says:

    Bringing a surprisingly light touch to the material Mukasonga investigates the disasters of Rwandan history building from the colonial period and culminating in the internal strife of genocide in 1994 in the microcosm of an all girls Catholic school in the 80s And so ominous political undercurrents are just one thread running ben

  4. says:

    A few years ago while reading William Golding's Lord of the Flies I was so furious at the author While showing the inherent evil that is present even in a civilized society how is it that the characters who are depicted are only little boys What about little girls? What about the children who do not adhere to the gender norms? I know that I am not flawless and while addressing human beings I often talk about the binaries while we do not ha

  5. says:

    Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastiue Mukasonga translated from the French by Melanie Mauthner uses the backdrop of a girls’ school in Rwanda to underscore the seeds of the Rwandan genocideOur Lady of the Nile is a high school for daughters of elite politically prominent Rwandan families The school is situated on a mountain top surrounded by

  6. says:

    I try really hard to keep up with what happens in the world but sometimes it is difficult to understand what happens in a foreign county a foreign culture and the horrific devastation of the genocide that occurre

  7. says:

    Short clear sketches of life in a Rwandan lycée circa the early 70s a world which I would have no idea about if not for this book This book was recommended to me by Brooklyn bookmatch when I reuested books by women in translation with a strong sense of place And it definitely has evocative descriptions of the school and the surrounding area but also of the texture of everyday life The other recommendations are

  8. says:

    I've always thought that choosing a good topic was a important skill for non fiction writers And implicitly at least I've thought the same th

  9. says:

    Also available on the WondrousBooks blog 35 stars This book is just what I needed to remind me why I decided to follow the r

  10. says:

    A short easy flowing novel about a boarding school in Rwanda run by nuns and priests housing the elite of young girls ie the daughter's of the rich the army and the politiciansIt starts innocently enough describing the school that is at a close proximity to the statue of our lady of the Nile goes through many subjects like superstition sexuality magic internal politics relationship to the Belgian ex occupaters but the prevalent th