Cover Image: Igifu


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Member Reviews

It has taken me a while to get to this collection, although once I started, the writing flowed in such a way that I could almost read it in one sitting, if not for the weight of the narrative. I do not know how to precisely describe these short stories. They are from Rwanda, a country I only have a scattered understanding of. None of the political turmoil is directly referenced here. Each chapter focuses on the repercussions and changes in the people's daily lives in those unstable times.
The hunger, the weariness and the earning for another happier time are all crammed in these. There aren't many in this collection, but each is vivid and heart-rending. We have people leading a particular life due to the compulsion of the times they find themselves in, and many suffer in varying degrees. We also see those resigned to their lives and lead it the best way they can. The lead protagonists range in age from the young to the old as they reflect on their experience. I wanted more from the individual story as I moved on to the next but did not get the closure-it was not that kind of book. 
It is translated from French and is something I highly recommend people try.
I received an ARC thanks to NetGalley, the review is entirely based on my own reading experience of this book.
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Igifu. Hunger. The first story in this collection is a confronting account of a Rwandan child starving to death during the genocide of the mid-1990s. The remaining stories are just as disturbing, as Mukasonga recounts tales of the genocide told from the point of view of Tutsi children and young adults. The devastation this atrocity had on their way of life, and the uprooting, grief and loss of these survivors is very affecting. This short collection is emotionally-charged and sometimes hard to read, but very worthwhile.
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Igifu, hunger. Physical hunger, spiritual hunger, in these stories that merge into a single, desperate narrative of the above all moral destruction caused by the extreme consequences of the logic of "us and them". Here we are talking about the extermination and diaspora of the Rwandan Tutsis by the Hutus, who went from being neighbours to relentless torturers in an ethnic cleansing that is considered one of the bloodiest of the 20th century, but the mechanism behind it is always the same, and we hear it echoed every day in the inflammatory speeches of some supremacist politician, in words that sound so good not to the brain but to the belly.
The truly beautiful writing and the empathy that springs from a narrative that never indulges in truculent details make this text one of those that you cannot leave until you have turned the last page.
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a must-read book - Scholastique Mukasonga presents phantom memories of Rwanda and radiate with the fierce ache of a survivor.
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I enjoyed this collection of autobiographical stories - memories of Rwanda during its time of conflict.

The writing was beautiful and elegant. The stories touching and sad as they explored the loss and sorrow of life during that time.

I would recommend this book to anyone. If not a totally enjoyable read, it is certainly a worthwhile read.

Thank you to netgalley, the publisher and the author for sending me this ARC
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This collection of short stories was beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. The author uses beautiful prose to describe painful moments in the life of Tutsis. I've got goosebumps when I read this.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this! All opinions are my own.
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“The sun was climbing in the sky, turning hotter and hotter. That sun was no friend of mine, I knew. It kept Igifu awake, kept him groaning and ripping at my stomach with all his claws.”

Rwanda, displaced Tutsis, starvation. Heart-breaking story of children scraping a pot for crumbs of dried porridge, because it’s bad luck to leave the home in the morning before eating. Hunger is always with them.

Igifu, Hunger, given to us at birth like a cruel guardian angel . . .”

Memories are still strong of ritual and tradition and plentiful milk from their cows, but even the traditions and rituals are disappearing.

“If we met any girls bringing the water home from Lake Cyohoha, my father would grumble: ‘That’s what they’ve done to us. Have you seen those calabashes they’re carrying on their heads? Back home in Rwanda, those calabashes were our butter churns. No one would have dared fill them with water. Shame be upon us! And I know what your mother does, but it’s no good, not even Ruganzu Ndori’s water can replace the milk from our cows.’”

When a neighbour gets goats, he is considered to have sunk to the “depths of degradation”.

The father continues to check pasture growth, water, and where cattle might do well in the future. Men continue to gather to talk at night, always eventually reminiscing about the cows they had, how exceptional each one was, and the cows they hoped to have again.

The second story is ”The Glorious Cow”.

Cows are the source of life, everyone depending on their milk. They are handled and treated and loved like prized pets. The men talk to them, stroke them, make sure they keep them safe from each other’s long horns.

“Once they’d drunk their fill, the cows rested and ruminated in the shadow of a grove or on a hillside out of the sun. Is there a happier time for a cowherd than the moment when he can rest his staff on the back of his neck, fold his right leg against his left thigh, and tranquilly survey his herd?”

With the absence of the cows, life is empty. Memory is everything.

“Before long my father would go off again. He always had things to do, he said, at a neighbor’s house, in Nyamata, at the mission, but I knew that most often he went back out to wander, leading his vanished cows with his staff.”

I’ve chosen these chapters to quote from because they still recall what has been lost. So much of the following chapters is what they’ve been left with.

The third story is titled “Fear”

>“In Nyamata,” my mother used to say, “you must never forget: we’re Inyenzi, we’re cockroaches, snakes, vermin. Whenever you meet a soldier or a militiaman or a stranger, remember: he’s planning to kill you, and he knows he will, one day or another, him or someone else. And if not today, then soon, in fact he’s wondering why you’re still alive at all. But he’s not in a hurry. He knows you won’t get away.”

The fourth is “The Curse of Beauty”. It’s the tale of an exceptionally beautiful woman, desired by important men, and how her life goes in the city.

The last is “Grief”, which is certainly my reaction to these stories. It’s about a young woman who wants to know what happened to her family, and the stories on television just seem to accept that Africa always has massacres. It’s almost like ‘Nothing to see here – move along’, but of course she knows better.

She goes back to try to find some evidence of their fate, and she does find that some shocking discoveries have been made. An old man tells her not to look for them, graves or bones or anything.

“They’re inside you. They only survive in you, and you only survive through them.
. . .
With that strength you can do things you might not even imagine today.”

I hope that old man is right.

It is an amazing collection, spare and cutting. I appreciate the skill and courage it must take to put these thoughts into words. This was first published in 2010 and translated from the French this year (2020)

I thank NetGalley and Archipelago for the preview copy from which I’ve quoted so liberally.
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𝘐𝘨𝘪𝘧𝘶 is a collection of five translated short stories, all set in Rwanda during the mass-displacement and genocide of the Tutsis. Unlike a lot of other short story collections, I didn't find the stories to have voices very distinct from one another. They shared a commonality of tone and share a lack of physical description about the main character. Where I would normally count that against a collection, in the case of 𝘐𝘨𝘪𝘧𝘶, it served a unique and thoughtful purpose. I think the characters share a voice with what is, in reality, a large group of people, not a singular person or character. There was not just one starving child, one displaced cowherd or one grieving survivor. With her deliberate use of non-descript characters she paradoxically manages to write about a whole group of people—a group, to our great discredit, often relegated to a statistic in the West.⁣

The writing itself does not lack for description. It's lush and original. The author has a way of personifying feelings as though they are their own characters in the story. Truly a brilliant way of illustrating the experience of shared trauma. A trauma that evidently follows the characters around like their own shadows. Obviously, the subject matter is painful and incredibly moving. Though I haven't read the original text I think the translator did a wonderful job not just with the writing but also in assisting the reader on Rwandan-specific vocabulary and custom.

I can't imagine the what it might have been like to write this book but I'm grateful to the author for sharing her experience with us in the form of fiction, and to Archipelago for bringing it to english readers.
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Thank you to Archipelago and NetGalley for the Advanced Reader's Copy!

Now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indie Bookstore. 

We rarely get to see Rwanda in the aftermath of the mass killing of the Tutsi people, the destruction and the rebuilding of the nation. Emotional, memorable and haunting, Scholastique Mukasonga's Igifu is a collection of stories about postwar Rwanda. Struggling to survive in the aftermath of a genocide, Mukasonga's characters are as strong as they are fragile. With courage and bravery, the women do what they must to survive and find beauty in the struggle of being alive.
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Having been moved by Scholastique Mukasonga's memoir of her childhood, The Barefoot Woman, which I read a couple of years ago, I jumped at the chance to read and review this new English translation of her short story collection, Igifu. Igifu translates as 'hunger' and is the title of the first story, a disturbingly powerful account of a five year old girl slowly starving to death. It is heart-rending to read, yet so beautifully written and I was reminded of how I felt reading Jack London's classic tale, To Build A Fire.

Igifu, the book, is a collection of five short stories, each of which took me deeply into aspects of Rwandan life pre- and post-genocide. Mukasonga vividly illustrates the daily lives of Tutsi people who lived under extreme circumstances, displaced and intimidated, for years before the genocide violence finally erupted, and the stories Fear and Grief powerfully convey their eponymous emotions. The Glorious Cow describes the aching void left in a community by the loss of their prized cattle herds around which their lives had formerly revolved. And in The Curse Of Beauty, possibly my favourite of the stories although I thought each of the five equally maintained Mukasonga's high standards, we follow the life of Helena who is feted yet also excluded, purely because of her physical appearance.

Igifu isn't an easy read, but I loved every minute I spent engrossed in these stories and am very grateful to Archipelago Press for this opportunity to read Mukasonga's work in translation as I know my own French isn't up to capturing all the detail and nuances of this masterful prose.
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A rich collection that reads more like a cohesive look at a people in turmoil than a set of stories. Each one is a beautiful and angst-evoking glimpse into the refugee experience. Artfully paced and skillfully balanced, they draw a reader in with both the cultural detail and the archetypal human experience and leave us with a shared sense of loss while avoiding despair. A worthwhile and rewarding read.
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Thank you NetGalley and Archipelago for the e-copy. 
Heartbreaking and important stories touching on Tutsis lives during the Rwanda genocides. 
Scholastique Mukasonga's writing is like any other, and the stories she wrote based on her recollection of the genocides and her childhood in Rwanda broke me. Important and insightful. Can't recommend this story collection enough, and can't wait to read more translated works from Archipelago.
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My review for Shelf Awareness Pro is here:

The review has also been cross-posted to my Smithsonian BookDragon blog:
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Reading Scholastique Mukasonga has become a bit of a Women In Translation month (#WITmonth) tradition for me. In 2017, when I participated for the first time, I read Our Lady Of The Nile. In 2018, I read Cockroaches, which is astounding and incredibly powerful, and made my list of best books that year. In 2019, I read The Barefoot Woman. And so I was really disappointed when this year I saw that her newest book, Igifu, was due to come out in September – too late to make it onto my #WITmonth list. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to secure a review copy via NetGalley – the tradition lives to fight another year!

Igifu, translated by Jordan Stump, is a collection of largely autobiographical short stories which draw on her childhood in Rwanda and recollections of the genocide. Igifu means hunger, and the titular story talks about the all-encompassing hunger which permeated childhood for Tutsis growing up before the Rwandan genocide but when oppression was well and truly in progress. It’s one of the most powerful stories in the collection – what’s most striking for me is how normal it seems to the characters to get one meagre meal a day, but equally how the hunger pervades their entire lives.

Another highlight is The Glorious Cow, which centres around the relationship between Tutsis and their cows. In this story, we see through the eyes of the protagonist’s father how cows are central to a Tutsi’s identity and status, and the pain felt when they have been taken away by their oppressors. A neighbour has managed to hang onto their cow in exile – and the community gathers round to see the cow being milked with an almost religious reverence.

The stories in this collection are different from her previous autobiographical writing, Cockroaches, because the focus moves away from the violence of the genocide itself and towards stories of everyday life, filled with grief, hunger, love, longing and memory. They’re no less powerful for this and can be difficult to read at times, because they’re simply stories of ordinary people in extraordinary situations, at least in the eyes of a Western reader. Mukasonga’s prose is as beautiful as I have come to expect in Stump’s excellent translation, and would make a worthy addition to any bookshelf.

I see that there are a few of her works still untranslated from her native French which leaves me in hope that I’ll be able to continue my tradition into 2021 and beyond!

Igifu is published by Archipelago Books on September 15th 2020. Thanks to the publisher and to Netgalley for the review copy.
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This is a collection of short stories based on reality. The author went to Europe to study before her Rwandan village was decimated, and these stories are based on her memories of her life before.

Though often sad, the stories also contain some joy- they are based on childhood, and coming of age in instability. They focus on what a young girl/young woman would attend to: other young women, tales of each other, and relationships. 

The writing is elegant- simply done, yet effectively conveying all the emotions of youth, and of the grown woman looking back. The reader is placed in Rwanda, feeling the sun, tasting the dust of a dry afternoon. Each character is portrayed as a memory- only the storyteller’s recollections of the character’s personality are seen. Family relationships are warm and comforting. 

I truly appreciated this book, and will read whatever of the author’s works are translated. She is a unique voice in fiction, and needs to be heard. Highly recommended.

Thank you to NetGalley and Archipelago for the ARC. 

also here:
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Igifu is the omnipresent state of hunger, as experienced by Scholastique Mukasonga, starting from her life at the age of five with her family in exile from native Rwanda.  Beautifully written and devastating in content, thanks to a lovely translation by Jordan Stump who has worked on her previous semi-autobiographical books.  Many thanks to Archipelago for publishing works of amazing depth and interest, making available for English speaking readers.
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I really enjoyed this! My only criticism is that I wish it was a bit longer. It was such a thoughtful reflection on the writer's past, and I particularly felt the grief section of the book, which was beautifully written.
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“Like it or not, the death of our loved ones has fueled us – not with hate, not with vengefulness, but with an energy that nothing can ever defeat. That strength lives in you too, don’t let anyone try to tell you to get over your loss, not if that means saying goodbye to your dead. You can’t: they’ll never leave you, they stay by your side to give you the courage to live, to triumph over obstacles” - Scholastique Mukasonga, Igifu.

Igifu, meaning hunger, it’s a collection of autobiographical stories surrounding the plight of Tutsis in Rwanda, before and after the 1994 genocide. But unlike “Cockroaches”, Mukasonga’s memoir, it doesn’t depict the terrible violence but focused on a diversity of interesting characters, their pain, resilience and hope. It’s funny and deep and we get this beautiful vignettes of Tutsis’ traditional way of life. I particularly enjoyed the story of Helena, the most beautiful Tutsi woman in the village, her rise and fall. I can not recommend Igifu enough.
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This is the first book of short stories I've seen in English from Rwandan author Scholastique Mukasonga. She is a master of the form; each story gives the reader a glimpse into the depths of terror, grief and hunger in the community of Tutsi refugees as they navigate emigration to Burundi and to Europe, and their eventual return to their homeland of Rwanda. These stories are poignant but accessible, even to high school or college students.
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*Thank you to Net Galley and Archipelago Books for the advance copy*

Igifu is a heart breaking and beautifully written autobiographical book of stories from Scholastique Mukasonga. The stories are from written from the point of view of Colomba, a young Tutsi girl living with her family in rural Rwanda. Colomba painstakingly describes the daily hunger (igifu) she experiences in the opening story of the book, also named Ifigu. Mukasonga jumps through different moments in Colomba's life. We follow her across the Rwandan border to Burundi, through her time as a teacher in exile, and are part of her journey when she returns to Rwanda to revisit the village she left behind. 

Mukasonga's story is difficult to read at times, but the writing and translation (by Jason Stump) are so gorgeous they almost contradict the prose in a way that makes it easier for the reader to connect with the material. I will be checking out more of Mukasonga's work.
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