Monday, 12 November 2018

Hearts Among Ourselves by A Happy Umwagarwa

Hearts Among Ourselves by A Happy Umwagarwa
Published by Dog Ear Publishing on the 5th September 2018.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Hands

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Check for Hearts Among Ourselves in these bookstores:

The Book Depository
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Karabo is a survivor of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, which claimed the life of her father and sisters, and now she is left alone and lonely in the midst of wounded hearts of Rwanda. She does not know the whereabouts of her mother.
When Karabo goes to live with her paternal uncle Kamanzi, a colonel in the new army, she meets Shema, another genocide survivor, one of her uncle’s young escorts. Shema’s charm gives Karabo some jingling. She will surrender her heart to him, but it’s complicated —Shema knows only a part of her story. Shall she reveal the other part of the story to him? She is bamboozled.

Hearts Among Ourselves is a story of love, hatred, and the intersection of the two. Karabo and Shema, two grieving orphans, grow up in a torn society—caught between the world of the living and the dead, and the conflict between the Hutus and the Tutsis.

Some say love is like water—it flows with everything on its way. Will Karabo and Shema be swept up in its current or tossed to the shore?

A Happy Umwagarwa has a unique voice which truly allowed this story to come to life for me. Her unusual use of Emglish gives a particularly authentic feel to Hearts Among Ourselves and helped me to feel almost as though I were reading a memoir rather than a novel. Narrated in the first person by Karabo, a young Rwandan genocide survivor, we see her grow from orphaned child to confident young woman while coming to terms with her country's past and finding her own place within a very changed society.

Umwagarwa uses Karabo's story to explore questions of ethnicity and identity in a deep and interesting way. I think everyone knows that the 1994 genocide was Rwandans of Hutu ethnicity massacring Rwandans of Tutsi ethnicity. However Umwagarwa introduces characters who don't fit conveniently into such a simplified narrative. I learned that Rwandans take their ethnic identity from their father so Karabo identifies as Tutsi, however her mother was Hutu. Taken in by a paternal uncle, a Tutsi, after her family was killed, Karabo has to deal daily with hatred expressed towards Hutus. She is, of course, painfully aware of her own dual ethnicity, but this fact is wilfully ignored by people around her and Karabo feels unable to acknowledge it even to the man she loves.

The love story aspect of Hearts Among Ourselves is, unfortunately, what I didn't like about the novel. It is an Irritating Love Triangle, especially because I couldn't actually understand why Karabo was so enamoured of either potential partner. Both seemed overly full of themselves and insensitive to Karabo's emotions! So I struggled to empathise with this which was a shame as Karabo's deliberations do continue at length. Looking past the romance though, I found Hearts Among Ourselves offered a valuable insight into Rwandan culture and the ongoing efforts of her people to reconcile.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by A Happy Umwagarwa / Contemporary fiction / Books from Rwanda


  1. Thanks for sharing. Sorry to hear the love triangle kind of ruined the book a bit - I don't know why authors feel the need to include love triangles all the time.


    1. I guess a triangle is an easy way to add tension to a story, but it's so overused!

  2. It's unfortunate to have your experience ruined by romance. I feel like this is the kind of story where the romance might not necessarily help the cause. Especially with such a serious subject. Still, I would like to learn more about the genocide - difficult though, it may be.

    1. Hearts Among Ourselves is still an interesting and worthwhile read, but I thought it could have been more powerful without so much emphasis on the romance aspect

  3. Looks like it's a mature handling of a devastating topic

    1. Yes, and I felt a lot of this story could well have been autobiographical. There is a strong sense of authenticity