Igifu by Scholastique Mukasonga, translated from the French by Jordan Stump
Published by Archipelago, 2020
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Set mostly in Mukasonga’s homeland of Rwanda, this collection of short stories explores the various hardships faced by the Tutsi people during the Rwandan genocide.
Though the threat of a brutal execution lingers in the background throughout most of the stories, this overt violence is never the focus. Instead, the author tends to home in beyond the wider context of civil war and focus on the ripple effects that national unrest and persecution can have – like poverty, cultural erasure, displacement, and exploitation. I thought this was really effective, showing us the often-forgotten impact beyond the senseless killings, as those who survived attempted to carry on with or rebuild their lives.
The strongest entries for me were definitely the collection’s opening and closing stories. The former, the title story, personifies the debilitating hunger of those facing severe poverty, while the latter follows a woman’s return to Rwanda (after previously escaping as a refugee) when she receives word that her entire family has been killed in the massacre. These are definitely the ones that will stick with me.
Mukasonga’s prose is simple yet effective, capturing the richness of the Tutsi people’s culture, and the sadness of their plight. Aside from the two previously mentioned stories, however, I thought there was a homogenous nature to the collection as a whole. I believe they are semi- autobiographical, which may explain the uniformity of pace, tone, and narrative voice, but as fictional pieces following different characters, I think the collection would have benefitted from more variety within the writing itself; allowing each piece to land with greater emotional punch.
In this respect, Igifu is a collection I will remember for its overall feel more than I will for its specific characters and plots. Still, it’s a very worthwhile piece of own voice literature from a perspective western audiences don’t engage with enough.
Thank you to the publisher for a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. You can pre-order up a copy of Igifu by clicking here.