Tuesday, November 15, 2016

COCKROACHES :: Scholastique Mukasonga

Scholastique Mukasonga has done something extraordinary with her autobiographical work Cockroaches. In straightforward prose over a mere 165 pages, in a binding approximately the size of a 5x7 family photograph, she harnesses four decades of devastating imagery and emotion emanating from the genocide of the Tutsi people in Rwanda. From the heartrending dedication to the last page, Mukasonga holds the reader's aghast but rapt attention through the hardships endured and resilience shown by her family and their fellow refugees.

Mukasonga was three when the pogroms began in 1959 and her family was expelled from their village, exiled to an unpopulated savanna overrun with tsetse flies and wild animals. Hutus relegated hundreds of thousands of Tutsis there, rendering them Inyenzi--cockroaches, something to be stomped on and eradicated.

Despite the daily regime of terror, the Tutsis sustained their proud culture as a means of bearing witness, believing they would die in their hellish exile. They worked, grew food and, perhaps most importantly, they read. Education was Mukasonga's way out and, thanks to books, she "sensed that the world was far bigger than we could imagine....Sometimes I dreamed of an impossible thing: having a book all to myself."

Mukasonga eventually graduated and moved to France, but kept abreast of the continued evisceration of her people, returning in 2004 to witness what remained of her village. Cockroaches is a haunting love letter to the lost, beautifully written and imbued with controlled emotion, a story to which we should all bear witness

STREET SENSE: A survivor of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda revisits her life, her family and her people in this compelling memoir. To say this is a difficult subject is a vast understatement, but these words should be read.

COVER NERD SAYS:  The story jumped out at me here before the cover did. In fact, the cover didn't catch my eye at all, I was only able to see a small image of it when I requested the book. It's a cover that became more beautiful after I finished reading, and now it's one of my favorites of the year. It's somewhat dark and yet hopeful, seeds being carried by the wind to better places (if I'm reading it right, but that's the visual I get here). Most of the people in this book did not end up in better places, but on these pages they live and breathe and are remembered.

A version of this review previously ran in Shelf Awareness.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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