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Our Lady of the Nile Reviews

Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga, Melanie Mauthner

Our Lady of the Nile

Scholastique Mukasonga, Melanie Mauthner

4.33 out of 5

5 reviews

Imprint: Daunt Books
Publisher: Daunt Books
Publication date: 18 Mar 2021
ISBN: 9781911547884

Our Lady of the Nile is a landmark novel about a country divided and a society hurtling towards horror. In gorgeous and devastating prose, Mukasonga captures the dreams, ambitions and prejudices of young women growing up as their country falls apart.

3 stars out of 5
Boyd Tonkin
10 Apr 2021

"A classroom apocalypse anticipates the greater horrors over the horizon."

Melanie Mauthner’s translation has an old-fashioned formality that can sound arch but fits the strained mood of gentility and hierarchy. Violence here remains unspeakable, until the rough voice of demagoguery snarls that ‘our lycée is still full of parasites, impurities and filth’. The adolescent japes stop. A classroom apocalypse anticipates the greater horrors over the horizon.

 

Reviews

5 stars out of 5
Lucy Scholes
21 Mar 2021

"Set in a covent school in Rwanda in 1979, Scholastique Mukasonga's Our Lady of the Nile is a coming-of-age tale with a terrible portent"

“Death established her reign over our poor Rwanda,” one of the schoolgirls chillingly warns another at the very end of the book. “She has a plan: she’s determined to see it through to the end.” In skilfully distilling an atrocity the reach and horror of which is hard to wrap one’s head around into the eminently relatable, recognisable tale of the lives of teenage schoolgirls, Mukasonga has written a coming-of-age story like no other.

4 stars out of 5
15 Mar 2021

"...(a) surprisingly bright, light-touch debut"

But bubbling under, then boiling over, is the ethnic division between Hutu and Tutsi, which in 1994 led to the slaughter of more than half a million Tutsi in three months. Mukasonga, a Tutsi, was exiled from Rwanda before settling in France in 1992; 37 members of her family were killed in the genocide. It’s little wonder that her early books focus on this, but the wonder of Our Lady of the Nile is in its bright, light touch...  The drama that ends the book, when the threat to “de-Tutsify our schools” is realised, is a foreshock of violence to come. We hear the rumble of what Mukasonga in her memoir, Cockroaches, calls “the machinery of the genocide”. Thanks to Mukasonga, who has been tipped for the Nobel prize in literature for her ability to make art from bearing witness, we are hearing its echoes still.

4 stars out of 5
Saba Ahmed
12 Mar 2021

"Rwanda’s descent into violence and genocide is captured in this story set in an elite school for girls"

There are the Hutu girls — among them, Gloriosa, Immaculée, Goretti, Modesta, and the Tutsi girls — Veronica and Virginia — whose admission is regulated by strict ethnic quotas. The Tutsi girls are exoticised in the imagination of their white teachers and Monsieur de Fontenaille, a former colonist and owner of the coffee plantation next to the school, and reviled by their Hutu-majority classmates. The violence against them builds to a horrifying crescendo, rendered in exquisitely measured prose. “Your supposed beauty will bring you misfortune,” taunts Gloriosa. But there are lighter moments too. Mukasonga’s young boarders are proud, sometimes shy, often very funny. They swap skin-whitening creams, they argue over the best way to cook bananas as they complain about school meals (“Everything the whites eat . . . comes out of cans”), they cut strips of fabric in sewing class which become sanitary pads once the girls are initiated into the “mysteries of a woman’s cycles”.

5 stars out of 5
Sarah Moss
11 Mar 2021

"both comedy and tragedy are hauntingly understated as it builds towards its violent climax"

This post-colonial satire is the background to Virginia and Veronica’s more acute danger, which comes from Gloriosa, the society waiting to believe her lies and the thugs at her father’s command. The ending is violent, bleak and wholly believable. Melanie Mauthner has made a perfectly pitched translation of the original French, which is eerily laconic, both comedy and tragedy hauntingly understated. The novel reminded me Magda Szabó’s brilliant Abigail, another school story for grownups that is also a book about our inability or refusal to protect children from history.