Jill Schoolman, the publisher of the 10-year-old, translation-focused small press Archipelago Books, is perhaps best known for introducing the American reading public to Karl Ove Knausgaard. Archipelago has published writers from more than 35 countries, and aside from her copious reading, Schoolman discovers a large number of future authors at international book fairs like Frankfurt, which is where she first became aware of Scholastique Mukasonga’s work.
“Anne-Solange Noble, the rights director at Gallimard, told me about Scholastique,” says Schoolman, who has published many Gallimard authors over the years. “I read Notre-Dame du Nile [Our Lady of the Nile] on the plane on my way home from the fair, and fell in love with the book.”
Scholastique made her U.S. debut with the novel in September. It’s set mostly in an elite Catholic boarding school 15 years before the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Melanie Muathner translated the book from the French, maintaining what Schoolman calls “Mukasonga’s light touch that runs deep, in which the invisible and the unspoken are what we witness.”
Our Lady of the Nile was influenced by Mukasonga’s life in Rwanda, though perhaps not as much as her earlier works, which she describes as the “tombeau de papier” (tomb of paper). Nevertheless, the novel is informed by what she’s lived through, including the loss of both her parents.
“I know why I write since, if I close my eyes, I walk endlessly down that ill-trod path that’s no longer taken by anyone; because there are no more houses, no more coffee plants, no more sorghum or sweet potato fields, no more women crushing sorghum under a stone, no more men squabbling around a jug of banana beer, no more little girls dragging their dolls by a string. They have fallen to the machete, they don’t even have gravestones,” says Mukasonga. “So when I close my eyes, I know why I write.”