REVIEW | A surprising novel about being a girl in school in Rwanda

Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga.

BOOK: Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga (Jacana)

In this very unusual and moving novel (shortlisted for the Prix de la République de la Conscience for the Petites Presses), Scholastique Mukasonga shows us how invested we are in our daughters. The setting is a school for elite girls in Rwanda. These young women are the pride and joy of their families and include not only the Hutu majority but also a small quota of Tutsi girls. It all depends on how they grow up, who they marry, or just who they sleep with. One or two of these girls show a real streak of independence and leadership.

Our Lady of the Nile is a Catholic institution, located high in the mountains near the source of the Nile. At the start of the school year, the villagers gather to see the learners arrive: “There were Mercedes, Range Rovers and huge military jeeps, their impatient drivers honking and waving… as they tried to overtake taxis, vans and minibuses…” And the reader is soon treated to the spectacle of the annual pilgrimage to the statue of Our Lady of the Nile (a Rwandan woman), installed above the spring which springs from the mountain.

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Irene B. Bowles