Our Lady of the Nile: A Novel by Scholastique Mukasonga (Author), Melanie Mauthner (Translator)

For her most recent work and first novel – Notre-Dame du Nil, originally published in March 2012 with Gallimard in French – Mukasonga immerses us in a school for young girls, called “Notre-Dame du Nil.” The girls are sent to this high school perched on the ridge of the Nile in order to become the feminine elite of the country and to escape the dangers of the outside world. The book is a prelude to the Rwandan genocide and unfolds behind the closed doors of the school, in the interminable rainy season. Friendships, desires, hatred, political fights, incitation to racial violence, persecutions… The school soon becomes a fascinating existential microcosm of the true 1970s Rwanda.

Review
A Publishers Weekly Book of the Year for 2014

Shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award

“In part, this is a good-humored yearbook of the adventures and scandals among the all-girl school’s precocious teenage charges, where the greatest peril to morality is the arrival of a male teacher with long blond hair. But soon the school, abetted by its hypocritical administrators (including those Belgian civilizers), becomes a petri dish for Hutu militancy, and normal adolescent pranks take on horrifying consequences. 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.” – The Wall Street Journal

“[Mukasonga’s] deliciously limpid, melodious style makes Rwandan daily life vividly accessible … Mukasonga expertly draws together all her threads and stories in climactic sequences to create a skillfully-orchestrated vision, both loving and fearful, of her beloved homeland ripped apart by vicious racial hatred.” – Shelf Awareness

“Mukasonga helps readers without experience of the setting become immersed at once,
feeling out the tribal tensions without being overburdened with exposition. This is a moving,
nuanced portrait of fear and survival.” – Publishers Weekly

“We should […] welcome the opportunity to read Mukasonga’s work in English. African francophone literature, and particularly that written by women, continues to be underrepresented in English, and as a result, we are not only missing out on compelling stories, but on an important political project. Scholastique Mukasonga, and likely many of her colleagues whom we have yet to translate, is working to correct the frustratingly persistent Western narratives about Africa and its history. […] The West has indeed too often dismissed suffering in Africa, but books like Our Lady of the Nile remind us why we must not be dismissive, why we must not look away.” – Madeleine LaRue, Music & Literature

“Our Lady of the Nile swept me up with its artful bitterness […] [Our Lady of the Nile] is buoyed by its air of foreboding consequence that imparts urgency to almost every page.” – Barnes & Noble Review

“Sneaky, lingering, her story evokes a sense of menace, and eventually a scene of full-blown violence, that sticks with you […] Our Lady of the Nile, published in English twenty years after the massacre of the Tutsi people, is a political novel, addressing race, culture, gender. The brutality of the Hutu-Tutsi conflict is easily misunderstood. This book makes it human, brings it down to the level of the everyday. When the question of how such a thing could have happened is asked, the treacherous answer is here, in the mundane. By imagining the everyday lives of Rwandans, Mukasonga makes more sense of the climate leading up to the genocide than a stack of news articles does. From this slant, the novel does its work quietly and well, with its head down—the way a Tutsi student might have done at Our Lady of the Nile.” – Bibi Deitz, Bookforum

“The novel reflects glimpses of a tension-filled past and slowly moves to uncover racial strife and the increase of genocidal actions against the Tutsi minority in Rwanda through the eyes of lycée girls enrolled at a Catholic boarding school that stands isolated on the Ikibira mountaintop by the river Nile, gated and guarded.” — World Literature Today

“What makes Mukasonga’s novel so effective is her ability to show how daily life continues alongside the omnipresent rhetoric of racial hatred and the threat of imminent violence … Her novel is a portrait of the slow, excruciating build-up toward violence and Rwandans’ attempts to lead full, meaningful lives while contending with state-sponsored exclusion. It is both a glimpse into the particular history of Rwanda and a warning about ignoring the latent signs of violence and exclusion that are present today around the globe. Implicit in her novel are many pressing questions. What crises that will erupt in the coming decade will seem so painfully predictable in hindsight? And what, if anything, is her Western readership willing to do to prevent them?” —George S. MacLeod, Kenyon Review

“…Our Lady of the Nile is exquisitely well conceived, structured and constructed, entirely deserving of the Prix Renaudot it won, placing her in a line that includes previous winners Céline, Le Clézio and Weyergans.” — Bert Archer, The National Post

“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

“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

“In this well-constructed novel, the grim final scenes prefigure the horrors to come.” – The Arts Fuse

“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.” – complete-review.com

“What makes Mukasonga’s novel so effective is her ability to show how daily life continues alongside the omnipresent rhetoric of racial hatred and the threat of imminent violence … Her novel is a portrait of the slow, excruciating build-up toward violence and Rwandans’ attempts to lead full, meaningful lives while contending with state-sponsored exclusion. It is both a glimpse into the particular history of Rwanda and a warning about ignoring the latent signs of violence and exclusion that are present today around the globe. Implicit in her novel are many pressing questions. What crises that will erupt in the coming decade will seem so painfully predictable in hindsight? And what, if anything, is her Western readership willing to do to prevent them?” — George S. MacLeod, Kenyon Review

About the Author

• 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 leave the school of social work in Butare and 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. Twelve years later, Gallimard published her autobiographical account Inyenzi ou les Cafards, which marked Mukasonga’s entry into literature. This was followed by the publication of La femme aux pieds nus in 2008 and L’Iguifou in 2010, both widely praised. Her first novel, Notre-Dame du Nil (Our Lady of the Nile), won the Ahamadou Kourouma prize and the Renaudot prize in 2012, as well as the Océans France Ô prize in 2013 and the French Voices Award in 2014, and was shortlisted for the 2016 International Dublin Literary award.

• About the Translator: Melanie Mauthner read Modern Languages (French/Spanish) at Wadham College, Oxford and worked as a sociology lecturer before becoming a translator. Her publications include Ethics in Qualitative Research (Sage 2012), Sistering (Palgrave 2002), short stories and poems in magazines and anthologies. She obtained a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2013 to translate Scholastique Mukasonga’s collection L’Iguifou and is now translating her novel, Notre-Dame du Nil. She performs as part of the London writers’ collective, Malika’s Poetry Kitchen.

The author lives in France.

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