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Our Lady of the Nile    by Scholastique Mukasonga order for
Our Lady of the Nile
by Scholastique Mukasonga
Order:  USA  Can
Archipelago Books, 2014 (2014)
Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

The recent history of Rwanda is a tragic one of terrible ethnic prejudice, and author Scholastique Mukasonga has chosen to depict specific aspects of it in a school setting. As a result, the beautifully written and translated Our Lady of the Nile provides a pretty searing social history of a once-lovely country.

Run by Belgian religious, the elite Catholic boarding school is for young women to be prepared for their future as wives of government and professional officials. They are taught by some French teachers as well. The school is located high in the mountains, near the source of the Nile River. Not only are there villages about but also a few other Europeans, one of whom is an amateur anthropologist. All of this is briefly but convincingly and even somewhat humorously drawn for us to see.

The young women bring their privileged home life with them, and we see them emulate the political cues they have been given. Their acknowledged leader, Gloriosa, sets the tone for the class, and she is unsparing in her negative attitude to the token minority girls at the school. A grand scheme she hatches comes to a searing but not too surprising end.

This book is the recipient of several French prizes. The author, born and raised in Rwanda, experienced first-hand with her family the displacement and humiliation caused by the conflict: 'I know why I write. If I close my eyes, I'm forever walking down that path nobody takes anymore. For there are no more houses, nor more coffee shrubs, no more sorghum or sweet potato fields, no more women pounding sorghum with pestles, no more men bickering around a jug of banana beer, no more little girls dragging their dolls by a string. They have all fallen to the machete, without proper graves. Some of their bones may have been gathered, haphazardly, in an ossuary. So, when I close my eyes, I know why I write.'

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