Thursday, 13 December 2018

The Barefoot Woman by Scholastique Mukasonga

The Barefoot Woman by Scholastique Mukasonga
First published in French as La femme aux pieds nus in France by Editions Gallimard in 2008. English language translation by Jordan Stump published by Archipelago Press today, the 13th December 2018.

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Born in Rwanda in 1956, Scholastique Mukasonga experienced from childhood the violence and humiliation of the ethnic conflicts that shook her country. In 1960, her family was displaced to the polluted and under-developed Bugesera district of Rwanda. Mukasonga was later forced to flee to Burundi. She settled in France in 1992, only two years before the brutal genocide of the Tutsi swept through Rwanda. In the aftermath, Mukasonga learned that 37 of her family members had been massacred.

The Barefoot Woman is the story of the author's mother, a fierce, loving woman who for years protected her family from the violence encroaching upon them in pre-genocide Rwanda. Recording her memories of their life together in spare, wrenching prose, Mukasonga preserves her mother's voice in a haunting work of art.

Reading The Barefoot Woman allowed me to gain a different perspective on traditional Rwandan life to that of the other Rwandan books I have read so far because this memoir does not focus upon the the horrific 1994 genocide. The book was written over a decade later so the author's awareness that this would occur is very much in evidence, but she tells us of her family's daily life in the preceding decades. I got a sense of normality from the memoir because events are told from Mukasonga's child viewpoint and she has only really known their Bugesera existence so vividly described these customs and society. In truth however, Mukasonga's Tutsi family has already been exiled from their homeland and, despite making the best of Bugesera, her mother does not see this place as home.

Mukasonga's mother must have been a wonderfully strong woman to have kept herself and her family together and healthy for as long as she did. We're talking of over three decades ostensibly within Rwandan borders but basically in exile from their home and under continual violent harassment from soldiers stationed nearby. A woman who practiced natural herbal medicine, she had to start learning all over again the properties of the plants that were now available to her. Coming as they did from a cattle-rearing tradition, the exiled Tutsis now found themselves without any cows therefore without one of their important nutrition sources and, because cow dung was to them a fuel and a building material, without the materials for shelter or heating. That they didn't all give up is testament to their deep commitment to rebuilding their lives and communities. This memoir illustrates an inspiring example of how to pick oneself up. It is also a sad reminder of the consequences of colonial interference and racial favouritism.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Scholastique Mukasonga / Biography and memoir / Books from Rwanda

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