Scholastique Mukasonga: Reclaiming Rwanda’s Stories

The genocide of 1994 in Rwanda continues to cast a long shadow over the country – and over its European colonisers. Belgian colonists and missionaries originally favoured Rwanda’s minority Tutsi people (even devising an ‘ethnic identity card’ in 1931) but later decided to afford greater privileges to the majority Hutus. By doing so they created deep divisions in the country. Although Scholastique Mukasonga had fled to France during earlier unrest in the 1970s, more than 30 members of her family in Rwanda were killed in the genocide. Mukasonga draws on her experiences in Our Lady of the Nile, an allegorical novel set in 1973. Much of the novel’s action takes place in a Catholic girls’ boarding school high up in the mountains, set up to train Rwanda’s female elite. The result, while tragic, is also brimming with laconic humour. This, Mukasonga’s first novel, was published in French in 2012 and it is now translated into English by Melanie Mauthner. In this event, filmed at the 2021 Edinburgh International Book Festival, Mukasonga joins Ellah Wakatama, Editor-at-Large at Canongate Books, to talk about the novel and the fascinating recent developments in Rwanda’s culture and language.

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