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The Barefoot Woman
Cover of The Barefoot Woman
The Barefoot Woman
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LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR TRANSLATED LITERATURE
A moving, unforgettable tribute to a Tutsi woman who did everything to protect her children from the Rwandan genocide, by the daughter who refuses to let her family's story be forgotten.

The story of the author's mother, a fierce, loving woman who for years protected her family from the violence encroaching upon them in pre-genocide Rwanda. Recording her memories of their life together in spare, wrenching prose, Mukasonga preserves her mother's voice in a haunting work of art.
LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR TRANSLATED LITERATURE
A moving, unforgettable tribute to a Tutsi woman who did everything to protect her children from the Rwandan genocide, by the daughter who refuses to let her family's story be forgotten.

The story of the author's mother, a fierce, loving woman who for years protected her family from the violence encroaching upon them in pre-genocide Rwanda. Recording her memories of their life together in spare, wrenching prose, Mukasonga preserves her mother's voice in a haunting work of art.
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About the Author-
  • Born in Rwanda in 1956, Scholastique Mukasonga experienced from childhood the violence and humiliation of the ethnic conflicts that shook her country. In 1960, her family was displaced to the polluted and under-developed Bugesera district of Rwanda. Mukasonga was later forced to flee to Burundi. She settled in France in 1992, only two years before the brutal genocide of the Tutsi swept through Rwanda. In the aftermath, Mukasonga learned that 37 of her family members had been massacred. Her first novel, Notre-Dame du Nil, won the Ahmadou Kourouma prize and the Renaudot prize in 2012, as well as the 2013 Océans France Ô prize, and the 2014 French Voices Award, and was shortlisted for the 2016 International Dublin Literary award. In 2017 memoir Cockroaches was a finalist for the LA Times Charles Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose. About the translator: Jordan Stump received the 2001 French-American Foundation's Translation Prize for his translation of Le Jardin des Plantes by Nobel Prize winner Claude Simon. In 2006, Stump was named Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He has translated the work of Eric Chevillard, Marie Redonnet, Patrick Modiano, Honoré de Balzac, and Jules Verne, among others. He is a professor of French literature at the University of Nebraska.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    October 15, 2018
    A profoundly affecting memoir of a mother lost to ethnic violence.Mukasonga (Cockroaches, 2016, etc.) left her birth country of Rwanda to work in France before the genocide began, but she was well familiar with the events preceding it. As a child, she recounts, her mother informed her that her duty was to cover her body with a colorful pagne when she died: "No one must see a mother's corpse," she said portentously. "Otherwise it will follow you, it will chase you...it will haunt you until it's your turn to die, when you too will need someone to cover your body." When she was still young, Mukasonga and her family were herded off to an inhospitable region where, she imagines, the Hutu rulers hoped that "the Tutsis of Nyamata would gradually be wiped out by sleeping sickness and famine." Instead, long before the genocide began, they were steadily victimized: beaten, raped, looted, murdered. The author's mother, a reader of signs and omens, held drills so that her children could escape: "And so we knew exactly how to scurry into the brambles, how to dive under the dried grasses." Mukasonga's account of village life can be charming, as when she writes of the importance of growing sorghum for, among other reasons, making a mild beer that served as a social bond. But then it can become harrowing on the same page, as when she considers whether a man can truly be a man if robbed of his cattle, a visible sign of wealth and status. Finally, in the spasm of civil war and genocide that swept across Rwanda in the early 1990s, her mother and dozens of other family members were killed. The author closes with a haunting vision in which the ghost of a friend asks her whether she has brought "a pagne big enough to cover them all, every one of them."A loving, urgent memorial to people now "deep in the jumble of some ossuary" who might otherwise be forgotten in time.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from December 2, 2019
    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.

  • The New York Times "Radiant with love... The Barefoot Woman powerfully continues the tradition of women's work it so lovingly recounts. In Mukasonga's village, the women were in charge of the fire. They stoked it, kept it going all night, every night. In her work -- six searing books and counting -- she has become the keeper of the flame."
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    Steerforth Press
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