cover image Harvest of Skulls

Harvest of Skulls

Abdourahman Waberi, trans. from the French by Dominic Thomas. Indiana Univ., $15 trade paper (72p) ISBN 978-0-253-02432-9

Waberi (In the United States of Africa), professor of French and Francophone literature at George Washington University, places this short, intricate novel in 1998 Rwanda, four years after the genocide, weaving horrific memories and allusions to the atrocity into stories of dealing with the trauma. Divided into “Fictions” and “Stories,” the book is broadly categorized as fiction but maintains a heavy autobiographical bent. In his preface, Waberi asks, “How many bodies are we talking about? Falling, stumbling, caught by the ends of the hair, finished off, emasculated, defiled, raped, incinerated?” The novel’s fractured form lends the subject matter depth and scale; while the stories are each personal and intimate, the collective pain is vast. In the standout chapter “And the Dogs Feasted,” an old woman has renamed her dog Minuar, after the French name for the UN peacekeeping mission she says “failed to protect us.” She explains that her own dog “fattened up on human flesh during the genocide,” even feasting on the bodies of some of her family members: “We all know each other around here, so he probably did eat people he knew.” Though brief, the novel poses large questions and insinuates itself into an ongoing literary discussion about how to record the horrific acts of the genocide. From the first line, Waberi’s stunning book pays testimony to his delicate dilemma: “One almost feels like opening with an apology for the very existence of this work.” (Feb.)