cover image The Barefoot Woman

The Barefoot Woman

Scholastique Mukasonga, trans. from the French by Jordan Stump. Archipelago, $16 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-1-939810-04-5

Decades after the 1994 Rwandan genocide that took the lives of the author’s parents and siblings, Mukasonga (Cockroaches) looks back at her resilient, resourceful mother Stefania in this intense tale of an exiled Tutsi family struggling to retain their culture and dignity despite brutality and death. Driven from her lush homeland in 1960 to “the dry, dusty plain of the Bugesera” by Hutu leadership following the end of Belgian rule, Stefania focused on saving her children, including four-year-old Mukasonga, as she attempted to recreate the framework of Tutsi life. Refusing to raise her family in a cheap sheet metal shack, Stefania built a traditional inzu, “a house made of straw woven like a basket,” because “it was only in the ancestral dwelling place that she’d find the strength and courage... to face our misfortunes.” In telling her mother’s story, Mukasonga, who fled to France in 1992, documents the Tutsi way of life as she describes growing and harvesting sorghum for the brewing of beer, medicine and healing practices, and Tutsi beauty standards and marriage customs. Ultimately, Mukasonga’s created a loving tribute to her mother: “My sentences weave a shroud for your missing body.” Despite the horrible tragedies recounted throughout, joy prevails in this beautiful and elegiac memoir. (Dec.)