Magazine article World Literature Today

Our Lady of the Nile

Magazine article World Literature Today

Our Lady of the Nile

Article excerpt

Scholastique Mukasonga. Our Lady of the Nile. Melanie Mauthner, tr. Brooklyn. Archipelago Books. 2014. isbn 9780914671039

Our Lady of the Nile (Notre-Dame du Nil, 2012) won the Prix Renaudot, the French Voices Award, as well as the 1994 Ahmadou Kourouma Prize. Scholastique Mukasonga lived the ethnic conflicts in Rwanda and lost twenty-seven of her family members as a result of the Tutsi genocide, while being forced to take refuge in France.

The novel reflects glimpses of a tensionfilled past and slowly moves to uncover racial strife and the increase of genocidal actions against the Tutsi minority in Rwanda through the eyes of lycée girls enrolled at a Catholic boarding school that stands isolated on the Ikibira mountaintop by the river Nile, gated and guarded. The lycée was built by the Belgium colonizers in Africa and encompasses an isolated, delineated area above the poor village of Nyaminombe, with an exotic garden, a guest bungalow, and foreign teacher villas.

When the lycée opens, luxurious cars travel to the mountain to bring daughters of businessmen, governors, and the country's elite. They will all be trained accordingly to maintain status, increase their chances of an advantageous marriage, and make a fortune.

The only Tutsi girls in the lycée, Virginia and Veronica, are a minority (the yearly quota is two Tutsi students for twenty of other origins). Veronica accepts the veneration of Mr. de Fontenaille (a former plantation owner who discovered the shrine of a local queen and is fascinated by the idea of Tutsi Egyptian roots), and she participates in ritualistic performances centering on the image of Isis. …

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