About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

#23: Running the Rift

Running the Rift, by Naomi Benaron (Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2012)

"Running the Rift follows the progress of Jean Patrick Nkuba from the day he knows that running will be his life to the moment he must run to save his life. A naturally gifted athlete, he sprints over the thousand hills of Rwanda and dreams of becoming the country's first Olympic medal winner in track.

"But Jean Patrick is a Tutsi in a world that has become increasingly restrictive and violent for his people. As tensions mount between the Hutu and Tutsi, he holds fast to his dream that running might deliver him, and his people, from the brutality around them. But the day comes when he realizes there is only one way he can continue competing, and suddenly he's thrust into a world where it's impossible to stay apolitical -- where the man who sold him bread a few weeks ago now spews hatred, where an identity card bearing the right word becomes his most prized possession, and where the woman he loves may be lost to him forever.

"Winner of the Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, Naomi Benaron has written a stunning and gorgeous novel that takes us behind the headlines to reveal the causes and effects of Rwanda's tragic history and, more important, to portray the resilience of the human spirit. Through the eyes of one unforgettable boy who comes of age during that time, she explores the story of a country's unraveling, its tentative new beginning, and the love that binds its people together."

Opening Line:
"Jean Patrick was already awake, listening to the storm, when Papa opened the door and stood by the side of the bed."

My Take:
If you know me you'll know how rare this is, but I really have no words to do this book justice. Stunning, wrenching, and beautiful. I'm really trying to be objective here and not fall into that Saving Private Ryan fallacy of thinking any book that captures an especially harrowing moment must be good. But I don't think that's it; much of the book's power comes from the fact that for most of the book the violence is relatively understated, and only plays around the edges of the main characters' lives. Without spoiling too much, its most moving parts aren't pictures of graphic, wholesale slaughter after President Habyarimana's 1994 assassination (which are mercifully few), but the smaller scale human scenes that take place in its wake, specifically Jean Patrick's farewell conversation with his former schoolmaster, and Ineza's chilling insistence that daughter Bea run away with Jean Patrick rather than stay behind with her parents. I seem to be saying this left and right lately, but this is one of the best books I've read in a while.

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