Genocide survivor memoir now in English

Saturday April 13 2019

Copies of Yolande Mukagasana book 'Not my Time

Copies of Yolande Mukagasana book 'Not my Time to Die' on display. PHOTO | HUZA PRESS 

JEFFERSON RUMANYIKA
By JEFFERSON RUMANYIKA
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Rwandan author Yolande Mukagasana’s 1997 book La Mort Ne Veut Pas des Moi has been translated into English as Not My Time to Die.

The translation, which came out last week in time for Kwibuka 25, was published by Huza Press, a local publisher that showcases Rwandan and EastAfrican creative voices.

The book is her survivor testimony from 1994, when she was a 40-year-old Rwandan nurse and mother of three.

At the time, Mukagasana ran a clinic in Nyamirambo at the heart of Kigali, and was planning a party for her wedding anniversary.

But everything changed and her plans were thwarted when then-Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana’s aeroplane was shot down while flying back to Kigali from Arusha. The event sparked the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Things went from bad to worse when Mukagasana was targeted by the local militia because she was a successful Tutsi woman.

She was separated from her family and fled for her life. The book is a heart-wrenching account of her travails as she hides from the merciless killers.

Mukagasana recounts her story in a dialogue that turns the reader into a listener following the events as they unfold.

“Cockroaches” is what the Tutsi were called, and Mukagasana paints a picture of how they lived in fear, grief, hunger and hope throughout the 100 days of the attacks.

She vividly describes the betrayal of friends, and her feelings of suspicion, anger and disappointment while connecting the times and locations where these events happened.

Although the events described in the book take place in 1994, the story remains fresh, urgent and relevant today.

The memoir can be compared to Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, chronicling his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, and The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank, written while she was in hiding for two years with her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

Mukagasana says the idea to write the book came about when she was hiding under a sink from the killers.

She says this was a way to let out her feelings as she couldn’t even cry at the time. Writing the book was cathartic, and kept the memory of her loved ones close during those 100 days.

The book has updates targeted to the Rwandan audience, using Kinyarwanda terms and metaphors.

La Mort Ne Veut Pas des Moi was translated into English by Dr Zoe Norridge, a senior lecturer in African and Comparative Literature at King’s College London.

She first read the book in 2006 while studying for her PhD in African literature, and met Mukagasana six years later when she was on a two-month stay in Rwanda.

Dr Norridge is the chair of Ishami Foundation, a local NGO that draws on genocide survivors’ experiences to connect humanity using sports and storytelling. She translated the book with Mukagasana mostly in person, and other times over the phone.

Mukagasana balances scenes of horror with tender recollections of happier times.

She goes back and forth from 1994, through flashbacks that sometimes feel uneven although they bring out the back story of her predicament.

The style of storytelling sometimes seems rigid, perhaps because it is a translation. But the rigidity is made up for by the rich Rwandan cultural context, daring style, emotional complexity, lyrical language, pan-Africanist undertones and historical references.

You feel empathy, regret, compassion, grief, love and hate vicariously through her experiences. There are multiple perspectives from the unfortunate turn of events and the constantly changing voices, her family and friends who died, those who helped her and those who wanted to kill her.

The open-ended conclusion left me wanting more, particularly about what happened to her saviour Emmanuelle.

Mukagasana, who returned to Rwanda from Belgium where she had fled, is the author of three other books, the autobiographical works Les Blessures du Silence (2001) and N’aie pas peur de savoir (1999), and a collection of stories De Bouche à oreille (2003).

She has received international prizes for her work including the Alexander Langer Foundation for Testimony and Solidarity, the America Jewish Committee Moral Courage Award and an Honourable Mention for the Unesco Education for Peace Prize.