FINALIST FOR THE 2022 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD
A new masterwork of satire, lore, and living memory from the leading voice of French-Rwandan literature
“Mukasonga breathes upon a vanished world and brings it to life in all its sparkling multifariousness” --J.M. Coetzee
In four beautifully woven parts, Mukasonga spins a marvelous recounting of the clash between ancient Rwandan beliefs and the missionaries determined to replace them with European Christianity.
When a rogue priest is defrocked for fusing the gospels with the martyrdom of Kibogo, a fierce clash of cults ensues. Swirling with the heady smell of wet earth and flashes of acerbic humor, Mukasonga brings to life the vital mythologies that imbue the Rwandan spirit. In doing so, she gives us a tale of disarming simplicity and profound universal truth.
Kibogo’s story is reserved for the evening’s end, when women sit around a fire drinking honeyed brew, when just a few are able to stave off sleep. With heads nodding, drifting into the mist of a dream, one faithful storyteller will weave the old legends of the hillside, stories which church missionaries have done everything in their power to expunge.
To some, Kibogo’s tale is founding myth, celestial marvel, magic incantation, bottomless source of hope. To white priests spritzing holy water on shriveled, drought-ridden trees, it looms like red fog over the village: forbidden, satanic, a witchdoctor’s hoax. All debate the twisted roots of this story, but deep down, all secretly wonder – can Kibogo really summon the rain?
Mukasonga (Igifu) draws on Rwanda's colonial history and ancient myths for an intriguing theological satire. In the opener, "Ruzagayura," set in the aftermath of the 1943 famine, characters variously blame the disaster on Hitler, paganism, and missionaries. After a French priest, referred to only as "padri," urges villagers to pray for rain, the elders call on their own mythical martyr, Kibogo, a king's son who sacrificed himself to bring rain. Kibogo's last priestess, Mukamwezi, lives on the local mountain and agrees to help. But when the rains come, the padri claims the Virgin Mary brought the rain. In "Akayezu," the Rwandan title character is kicked out of a seminary for heresy after linking the story of Kibogo with that of Jesus and Elijah. In "Mukamwezi," Akayezu attempts to baptize an old pagan woman, but instead, the two join forces. In the complex and revelatory "Kibogo," a white professor arrives to record the stories of Kibogo told by two old men of the village. As the men compete in their storytelling, three young men join in, and the professor eventually hears the story he wants them to tell, Mukasonga complicates the blurry line between history and myth and critiques its relationship to colonialism. This speaks volumes to the power of storytelling.