Hearts Among Ourselves

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Jan 2019

Member Reviews

Beautifully written. Completely drew me in as a reader, to the point where I lost track of what was going on around me and became totally involved in the story. Heart-rending and real. It was a privilege to read Hearts Among Ourselves and A. Happy Umwagara has done a stunning job delivering a book that once you read it will stick with you for a very long time.
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#ReadAfrica2018 #ReadAfrica2019 Book 13: Rwanda

Karabo was a young girl during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and saw her Tutsi father and sisters murdered, and was left for dead herself. Her mother, who was Hutu, fled the massacres, and Karabo was left an orphan, and taken in by her paternal uncle Kamanzi, who raised her as her own. Hearts Among Ourselves is a novel, but reads as a memoir, in such a way that Karabo feels like a real person. And while she is fictional, she IS also real, taken from pieces of everyone who survived the genocide, and lived on to face life after genocide amidst survivors and perpetrators and those in between.

A. Happy Umwagarwa has created a profound novel that is a love story, a coming of age story, but also a deep look into the effects of war and genocide on a population, and how ethnicity designations, hatred, and confusion don’t just go away because the massacres and/or wars are over. The author uses Karabo’s mixed ethnicity as a way to show the reader that there are no just good or just bad sides in Rwandan history and people, but deep beliefs that need to be fully erased before the country can really move on. I thoroughly appreciated this dinsight into Rwanda post 1994, as the country is often celebrated as having performed amazing feats in terms of reconciliation, and I think many of us outside of the country have never thought much about how much effort, pain, and courage this must have taken on the part of an entire population.

It took me quite a long time to read Hearts Among Ourselves. There were some areas that I found were too drawn out, especially in terms of the never-ending love triangle between Karabo, Shema, and Sugira. There were times when I wanted to tell Karabo to stop hiding, and then I realized I needed to put myself in her shoes, and imagine growing up having seen most of my family murdered by people who had previously been friends, and navigating life and love thinking that her mother had abandoned her to her fate. I really appreciated the insight into how the genocide didn’t come out of nowhere and hasn’t disappeared into the past either, as well as the constant reminder that everyone has had to deal with the consequences in some way or another.

So while the general narrative left me a little bored or perplexed at times, I still feel like the main takeaway from the story as a whole is that we cannot ignore history if we want to move forward, but that we cannot rest stuck to the past either. But that in the end, with hard work and an open heart, reconciliation is possible. And I learnt a lot about life in Rwanda and Rwandan culture, because A. Happy Umwagarwa has a great way of threading everyday life into each page.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the copy of this book!
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A Happy Umwagarwa has a unique voice which truly allowed this story to come to life for me. Her unusual use of Emglish gives a particularly authentic feel to Hearts Among Ourselves and helped me to feel almost as though I were reading a memoir rather than a novel. Narrated in the first person by Karabo, a young Rwandan genocide survivor, we see her grow from orphaned child to confident young woman while coming to terms with her country's past and finding her own place within a very changed society.

Umwagarwa uses Karabo's story to explore questions of ethnicity and identity in a deep and interesting way. I think everyone knows that the 1994 genocide was Rwandans of Hutu ethnicity massacring Rwandans of Tutsi ethnicity. However Umwagarwa introduces characters who don't fit conveniently into such a simplified narrative. I learned that Rwandans take their ethnic identity from their father so Karabo identifies as Tutsi, however her mother was Hutu. Taken in by a paternal uncle, a Tutsi, after her family was killed, Karabo has to deal daily with hatred expressed towards Hutus. She is, of course, painfully aware of her own dual ethnicity, but this fact is wilfully ignored by people around her and Karabo feels unable to acknowledge it even to the man she loves.

The love story aspect of Hearts Among Ourselves is, unfortunately, what I didn't like about the novel. It is an Irritating Love Triangle, especially because I couldn't actually understand why Karabo was so enamoured of either potential partner. Both seemed overly full of themselves and insensitive to Karabo's emotions! So I struggled to empathise with this which was a shame as Karabo's deliberations do continue at length. Looking past the romance though, I found Hearts Among Ourselves offered a valuable insight into Rwandan culture and the ongoing efforts of her people to reconcile.
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