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Cockroaches    by Scholastique Mukasonga order for
by Scholastique Mukasonga
Order:  USA  Can
Archipelago Books, 2016 (2016)
Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

Cockroaches is what the rebelling Hutus called the governing Tutsis in Rwanda. Author Mukasonga was born into a Tutsi family and unfolds her story from the time she was little to 1994, the year of the genocide. By that time, she and her brother had left the country at their parents' insistence so they could be saved. And when the genocide came, the rest of her family perished.

The book is an elegy for her family and what they suffered. It is also a portrait of life at that time, a life of being forced from one area to another several times, and of living under the constant threat of death. Yet Mukasonga's family, and the others who were so badly treated, managed to be a community no matter where they were taken. People fashioned living quarters and make-shift ovens and figured out how to cover themselves. They shared and celebrated.

Mukasonga was lucky; she got to go to school, and she was smart. She also dared to return to her family - twice. Each time they all agreed she should leave very quickly because she was in grave danger and so were her loved ones. The next time she came, it was to mourn not only the dead but also the loss of her roots - very little was left.

Beautifully and simply written, this story shows us how difficult it is for survivors to assuage their feelings of guilt and to find something tangible to mourn when all - not just loved ones, but locations as well - have disappeared. There were lots of relatives with many children as well as neighbors and friends, all gone. Nothing remains but memories, and Mukasonga has sung those movingly in these pages.

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