Cockroaches by Scholastique Mukasonga


“This will be another sleepless night. I have so many dead to sit up with.”

The words in my review are weak and small, it’s hard to review someone’s life story, particularly one as heavy and brave as this one. But I’ll do my best.

Scholastique Mukasonga tells us her heartbreaking flight from Rwanda during ethnic cleansing. Unearthing precious memories about those she lost is the beauty in the atrocities. What greater depths of pain than losing your family and so senselessly. We hear these horrors on the news, feel pain but it passes until another event takes it’s place. In memoirs we personalize it, connect to suffering and allow it to burrow in our hearts. It certainly must have been a painful process excavating the past and yet there are beautiful reflections such as the story telling, the spirituality, the laundry washing in the lake water (where there are crocodiles), working fields after school. There is a gorgeous sense of community that so many of us don’t have.

But terror, the soldiers bursting into homes night or day, the inhumane treatment. These are things that can be told but never truly felt to the extent of those who experienced it. Forbidden to pick up bodies? Children seeing people discarded, is there anything more horrific? I didn’t know much beyond what I have seen or read about the Tutsi and the Hutu. Imagining not being able to contact your family for fear they would be harmed, not having news of them, visiting finally but having to leave. Rushed reunion, wondering when a massacre will come? And when it does, while machetes are ending the lives of loved ones- still she must SURVIVE! Adults, elderly, children… so many. “There were survivors, of course. No genocide is perfect.” That must be the harshest two lines I have read, it just guts you. How did she manage to keep her humanity in the face of such horror? When her niece Jeanne-Francoise recounts what happened to her father, I caught my breath- imagining his suffering but worse, the sick torture of the young girl’s mind and soul as she brought food to her imprisoned father. Man’s cruelty to his brother knows no bounds, but we have to believe kindness and love is the same too. Seeking refuge with family that are split down the middle, some want to protect, other’s don’t want the risk of having you there… it’s easy to imagine what you would do, always something brave, talk is cheap. I don’t know how you live with this and relive it all in the writing, but it’s vital such stories be told. My admiration is high. It is a glorious form of courage and though I am disturbed, I was strangely uplifted too. ” Rare are the survivors who could find their loved ones’ remains and bury them in a grave.” To imagine refugees returning to the land they fled, trying to hold tight to any remaining family, hoping to rebuild again… how to staunch a bleeding heart, how to have hope for such a future clouded over with the shadows of so many dead and lost? Scholastique Mukasonga must live “in the name of all the others.” Heavy, unflinchingly raw, inspiring.

Pub Date 04 Oct 2016

Archipelago Books

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