- Rwanda Genocide Stories: Fiction After 1994 by Nicki Hitchcott
Nicki Hitchcott’s Rwanda Genocide Stories: Fiction After 1994 is the first work to address the absence of scholarship concerning fictional texts by Rwandan authors. Hitchcott builds on and engages with scholarly monographs such as Catherine Coquio’s Rwanda: Le reel et les récits (2004) and Alexandre Dauge-Roth’s Writing and Filming the Genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda (2010) both of which gave extensive analyses of first-person Rwandan survivor testimony as well as the literary works of non-Rwandans writing about the genocide. Hitchcott’s study is unique in giving unprecedented visibility to Rwandan authors of literary fiction, placing their works alongside now canonical texts on the 1994 genocide such as Senegalese writer Boubacar Boris Diop’s novel Murambi (2000), Djiboutian Abdourahman Waberi’s collection of short essays Moisson de cranes (2000), and Guinean Tierno Monénembo’s novel L’aînes des orphelins (2000).
French-based Rwandan writer Scholastique Mukasonga, the winner of the 2012 Renaudot literary prize for her novel Notre-Dame du Nil, features prominently in Hitchcott’s study but she also devotes significant space to lesser-known authors whose works are some of the most complex and unflinching attempts to use fiction to understand the slaughter of one million [End Page 503] of Rwanda’s Tutsi and moderate Hutu population in 1994. Aside from Mukasonga, only three other Rwandan authors have been translated into English. Francophone Rwandan writers such as Vénuste Kayimahe (La chanson de l’aube, 2014), Anicet Karege (Sous le deluge rwandais, 2005), Camille Karangwa (Le Chapelet et la machette: sur les traces du genocide rwandais, 2003), Robusto Kana (Le Défi de Survivre, 2009) and Jean-Marie V. Rurangwa (Au sortir de l’enfer 2006) are for the first time discussed at length in Hitchcott’s monograph as she reminds her reader that lack of visibility for Rwandan writers does not stem from a lack of production.
In her first chapter, “Rwandan Fiction,” Hitchcott explains this lack of visibility as owing in part to the scant resources available to promote and encourage literary culture in present day Rwanda: a dearth of literary texts on the national education curriculum, the scarcity of bookstores, and the high price of imported books. In addition, the collective literary project “Rwanda: Writing as a Duty to Remember,” in which 10 African authors (only two of whom were Rwandan) received grant money to produce fiction about the genocide, has tended to overshadow production by Rwandan authors. Hitchcott points out how Rwandan writers of fiction, with the exception of Mukasonga, Gatore, and Benjamin Sehene (Le feu sou le soutane, 2005) are often published by smaller presses, or independently. She identifies “the problem of Rwanda’s story being told by outsiders” as one of the central problematics Rwandan Genocide Stories seeks to address. She sets out to unpack the literary and ethical implications of who tells the story of the genocide for the witnesses, survivors, victims, and perpetrators.
In her introduction, Hitchcott lays out her theoretical perspective, taking issue with the universalizing tendencies of “trauma theory” which often assumes that the Holocaust is a sort of universal referent for traumatic experience. She sides with Stef Craps, author of Postcolonial Witnessing: Trauma out of Bounds (2013) in her skepticism of a “trauma aesthetic,” as outlined by Robert Eaglestone and Anne Whitehead, which suggests narrative fragmentation and formal experimentation as a privileged mode of representing traumatic experience. “I attempt to read these African texts on their own terms,” she writes, “that is by emphasizing the particular context of their production” (24). Indeed, she notes that the Rwandan writers’ fiction about trauma, rather than adhering to a “trauma aesthetic,” is in fact often more realist and historically grounded than non-Rwandan authors.
Two of Hitchcott’s most influential theoretical interlocutors are Michael Rothberg, with his concept of “multi-directional memory,” and Dominick [End Page 504] Lacapra who emphasizes “empathic unsettlement,” as opposed to vicarious traumatization, as a way to understand the emotional impact that literature of traumatic events can have on...