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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-09-26
- Reviewer: Staff
Set in the years leading up to the Rwanda genocide, Benaron’s Bellweather Prize–winning debut novel follows Jean Patrick Nkuba, “the jewel in Rwanda’s crown,” a Tutsi boy with a gift for running. Jean Patrick dreams of representing Rwanda in the Olympics, but must contend with abject poverty, an ethnic quota system, and savage bullying. He runs Olympic-qualifying times, moving closer to his dreams as tensions rise between the governing Hutus and the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Force), a Tutsi-led rebel army. Jean Patrick gains the favor of the president, but falls in love with a journalism student participating in antigovernment activism, and finds himself entangled in a vast and calamitous game of political chess. “Something unimaginable is coming,” warns his brother, a rebel soldier, and when the long-smoldering tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis erupt into a hellish conflagration, Jean Patrick must run away from the country he has spent his life running for. Benaron accomplishes the improbable feat of wringing genuine loveliness from unspeakable horror. She renders friendships and families with tenderness and sincerity, and lingers on the goodwill that binds a fractious community, even as those tethers grow taut and, finally, snap. She regards even the genocidaires with clear-eyed charity, allowing moral complexity to color the perversity of their deeds. It is a testament to Benaron’s skill that a novel about genocide—about neighbors and friends savagely turning on one another—conveys so profoundly the joys of family, friendship, and community. This powerful novel recounts inhumanity on a scale scarcely imaginable, yet rebukes its nihilism, countering unforgivable violence with small mercies and unyielding hope. (Jan. 17)