"Jean Patrick sprinted as hard as he could up the ridge. A reddish haze hung in the air and coated the brush. A blue turaco exploded into flight, its beak a flare of red and yellow. A bell tinkled in the clearing. It was Papa's inyambo steer, watching him with sleepy eyes, a clump of grass between his teeth. With a flash of understanding that took his breath, he saw that his father lived in all that surrounded him, and that every breath of wind contained his father's blessing."Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron, a novel set in Rwanda, is filled with moments of great beauty, quiet and not-so-quiet family moments, obstacle-transcending love, and sorely tested friendship. Central character Jean Patrick Nkuba is named after "Nkuba, Lord of Heaven, the Swift One", and early on shows a passion for running that leads to Olympic-qualifying times in the 800 meters. But he is growing up in the time of increasing hostility between the Tutsi and the Hutu tribes, which eventually will lead to the horrifying genocide of 1994, only the most recent massacre in a series spanning decades. He learns his grandparents and uncle were killed in the 1973 government overthrow in which "Hutu rose up to murder Tutsi."An irony is not even Jean Patrick, a Tutsi, can tell the Tutsi and the Hutu apart. "Some Hutu had coffee-and-cream complexions, long, delicate fingers, and sculpted features, and some Tutsi were short and round-faced, with back-coffee skin." The two tribes had been "mixed up together for so many years" that sure identification was impossible. His own Tutsi brother could be said to have short, stocky Hutu features. Nonetheless, many Tutsi traditionally wear felt hats and tend cattle, while Hutu work the fields and farms. Identification cards are carried to identify which tribe one belongs to. When tall and lean Jean Patrick is adamantly told by a Hutu train passenger that Tutsi have horns, he points out that he does not have them. The passenger knowingly responds, "That is because you are Hutu."Jean Patrick is smart enough to place first in his class and get a much-sought assignment to a good secondary school with a running coach who sees his potential. All he wants to do is learn and live and win races. But that may not be permitted in the Rwanda of his time. His coach, a Hutu, pulls strings to protect him, and provides him with topnotch equipment: "Jean Patrick's feet slipped into the shoes as if gliding through butter. . . . The soles were springy; he almost lifted from the ground with his toe-off." The President, a Hutu, embraces him as a young hero of his country as his running prowess becomes recognized. But in the meantime he is subjected to humiliation and physical attacks by Hutus, and is constantly worried about the state of his family. The "Hutu Ten Commandments" proclaim the inferiority of the Tutsi, and urge the Hutu male to "be united in solidarity against his common enemy, the Tutsi."As enmity increases, just getting around Rwanda through soldier checkpoints begins to cost ill-affordable bribes which may or may not work. Rebel groups arise, and there are frequent clashes. Jean Patrick is torn by the disparity between his sometimes privileged status and goals and the treatment of other Tutsis, but realizes while others had chosen "to fight with bullets, he had chosen to fight with his legs. As Uncle told him, each time he won, he carried all Tutsi with him." He has Hutu friends who sympathize and resist the escalating oppression, and he befriends an American professor who tries to help. In the midst of the country's chaos, Jean Patrick and a Hutu girl fall in love. Can their love survive? Can they survive, period? The rest of the world is disinclined to help a country where there is no oil, no diamonds.Saying more would begin to enter spoiler territory, but the events of 1994 and after are experienced by the novel's characters in an unforgettable way. This book won the Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, and it deserves to be widely read. According to her bio, the author is an advocate for African refugees and has worked extensively with Rwanda genocide survivors. She brings this beautiful country and its people to vivid life. The people she depicts are constantly chased by demons of mistrust and misinformation, while so many are like any other citizens of the world, seeking only those things which many of us take for granted - enjoyment of life and nature, family moments, love, friendship - and safety.