Scholastique Mukasonga. Archipelago Books. (160p) ISBN 9781939810786

It’s August so that must mean it’s Women in Translation month.

I’d already lined up quite a lot of novels and novellas for the month I was in the mood for some short story collections and did a shout out on Twitter for some suggestions. Igifu was one of the suggestions that really made me perk up and think I’ve not read any translated works from Rwanda, or sub-Saharan Africa before.

Scholastique Mukasonga builds upon a strong prose to bring to your heart a lost Rwanda through these heartfelt stories, full of family traditions, micro- and macro-politics, colonial impositions, but intertwined in grief and love throughout.

All the stories are brilliant at illuminating aspects of what life was like for Tutsi’s in exile during the genocides and. their aftermaths, and also shows what life was like before to some extent.

The collection is excellent throughout but I personally found ‘The Glorious Cow’ and ‘Grief’ to be the two strongest stories.

In ‘The Glorious Cow’ we hear of how the cows were treated and venerated as life givers and central to the culture of the families described in the story. Prestige and standing were both conferred through these beautiful animals, and the loss when they were slaughtered or had to be left behind when the genocide was ongoing is a different level of bereavement, a cultural loss.

Then there is ‘Grief’, such a strong story to end the collection on. Describing a woman’s discovery that she and her brother who had both left for exile in were the only ones of their family to escape slaughter during the genocide. We are taken through various stages of her personal grief, leading to some horrific discoveries and a knowledge that she has to be the conduit for the voices of the dead.

An emotionally crushing collection of short stories that are a must read, both for the history that’s imparted but also for the strength of Scholastique’s writing.

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