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Scholastique Mukasonga's autobiographical stories rend a glorious Rwanda from the obliterating force of recent history, conjuring the noble cows of her home or the dew-swollen grass they graze on. In the title story, five-year-old Colomba tells of a merciless overlord, hunger or igifu, gnawing away at her belly. She searches for sap at the bud of a flower, scraps of sweet potato at the foot of her parent's bed, or a few grains of sorghum in the floor sweepings. Igifu becomes a dizzying hole in her stomach, a plunging abyss into which she falls. In a desperate act of preservation, Colomba's mother gathers enough sorghum to whip up a nourishing porridge, bringing Colomba back to life. This elixir courses through each story, a balm to soothe the pains of those so ferociously fighting for survival.
Her writing eclipses the great gaps of time and memory; in one scene she is a child sitting squat with a jug of sweet, frothy milk and in another she is an exiled teacher, writing down lists of her dead. As in all her work, Scholastique sits up with them, her witty and beaming beloved.
Praise for The Barefoot Woman:
• "The Barefoot Woman powerfully continues the tradition of women's work it so lovingly recounts. In Mukasonga's village, the women were in charge of the fire...In her work - six searing books and counting - she has become the keeper of the flame." - Parul Sehgal, The New York Times
• The Barefoot Woman is simultaneously a powerful work of witness and memorial, a loving act of reconstruction, and an unflinching reckoning with the Rwandan Civil War...An essential and powerful read. - Zadie Smith
• "A profoundly affecting memoir of a mother lost to ethnic violence. . . A loving, urgent memorial to people now "deep in the jumble of some ossuary" who might otherwise be forgotten in time." - Kirkus Reviews, starred
• "In this elegant and lyrical memoir, Scholastique Mukasonga tells the story of her mother, Stefania, one of thirty-seven of Mukasonga's family members who was eventually killed in the Rwandan genocide. In these pages, Stefania lives as the heart of her exiled Tutsi community, a determined, funny, and graceful woman who keeps watch over the neighborhood on her termite mound, acts as a matchmaker and healer, and obsessively plots her children's escape. Mukasonga masterfully conveys how the joys of daily life can co-exist with horror and Jordan Stump's translation honors this outstanding storyteller and her remarkable personal history." - NBA Judge's Citation
• "The memories of childhood, a lost home, a mother who sacrificed herself are the pounding heart of the book, and Mukasonga has produced a work that anyone who might read it will remember." -Eleni Theodoropoulos, Literary Hub, Best Translated Novels of the Decade
• "Mukasonga is a master of subtle shifts in register - a skill inherited, perhaps, from the Rwandan traditions of intricate courtesy and assiduous privacy that Stefania maintained. She turns everything over restlessly: In her prose, poignant reminiscences sharpen into bitter ironies, or laments reveal flashes of comedy, determination, defiance." -- Julian Lucas, The New York Times
• "The Barefoot Woman is a resonant revelation." -Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor