Our Lady of the Nile

Written by Scholastique Mukasonga

In her first novel, Our Lady of the Nile, originally published in 2012 by Gallimard, Scholastique Mukasonga drops us into an elite Catholic boarding school for young women perched on the ridge of the Nile. Parents send their daughters to Our Lady of the Nile to be molded into respectable citizens . . . and to escape the dangers of the outside world. Fifteen years prior to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, we watch as these girls try on their parents’ preconceptions and attitudes, transforming the lycée into a microcosm of the country’s mounting racial tensions and violence. In the midst of the interminable rainy season, everything unfolds behind the closed doors of the school: friendship, curiosity, fear, deceit, prejudice, and persecution. With a masterful prose that is at once subtle and penetrating, Mukasonga captures a society hurtling toward horror.

Our Lady of the Nile is the 2014 French Voices Grand Prize Winner 

Praise

Rwanda's ugly history is woven well into the story...and the story is, of course, all the more powerful because readers are aware of what happened two decades later, the shocking mass-slaughter of 1994...A quite powerful novel of Rwanda, Our Lady of the Nile gives a good sense of life and conditions there in the early 1970s -- and the longstanding ethnic strife that took such a human toll, both before and after the period described here.
— Michael Orthofer, The Complete Review
 
Mukasonga is a playful author, and a chuckling good humor pervades the book. Her deliciously limpid, melodious style makes Rwandan daily life vividly accessible. It’s a total immersion in a way of life with its own customs and morality, with a handful of comical and compelling schoolgirls swept up in the divisive hatred of a nation, confused and vulnerable and just being teenagers. Mukasonga expertly draws together all her threads and stories in the climactic sequences to create a skillfully orchestrated vision, both loving and fearful, of her beloved homeland ripped apart by vicious racial hatred.
— Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, Shelf Awareness
 
In a writing style both rough and tender, Our Lady of the Nile depicts a society inevitably heading towards horror. [...] Poignant and tenacious.
— Christine Rousseau, Le Monde
 
...fluidly translated by Melanie Mauthner....[Mukasonga] creates a narrative movement that reflects how the Tutsis, at the time, must have experienced the growing threats of certain Hutus. At first, there is an illusion of relative comfort. The new school year begins, routines start all over again as they always do. That is, Mukasonga gives us the impression that Our Lady of the Nile will be a story about adolescent girls in a Catholic boarding school, with the kind of mishaps, adventures, and aspirations that such stories have. But gradually the skies darken, announcing the treacherous, suspenseful ending.... In this well-constructed novel, the grim final scenes prefigure the horrors to come.
— John Taylor, The Arts Fuse
 
Whoever has loved Africa will be touched by this story [...] It is the very essence of Africa, an immense Africa that will absorb even this terrible genocide.
— Joël Prieur, Minute
 
Strangely, it is in this incredibly light novel, that one best understands the ethnic, political, and religious reasons behind the massacre of the mysterious Tutsis.
— Arnaud Viviant, Regards
 
[After she was awarded the Prix Renaudot] I went out and procured every work by Scholastique Mukasonga. [...] Never has a prize been more merited.
— Frédéric Beigbeder, Lire
 
An amazingly simple tale but one which opens up the heart of Rwanda.
— Tony Messenger, Messengers Booker
 
The genocide in Rwanda has been depicted in many ways, but few have succeeded - with the help of fiction - like Scholastique Mukasonga in recreating the world that in 1994 was shattered to pieces.
— Svenska Dagbladet
 
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. (...) 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.
— Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
 
 

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