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Running the Rift: A Novel

Running the Rift: A Novel

Written by Naomi Benaron

Narrated by Marcel Davis


Running the Rift: A Novel

Written by Naomi Benaron

Narrated by Marcel Davis

ratings:
4.5/5 (17 ratings)
Length:
14 hours
Released:
Jan 3, 2012
ISBN:
9781611745672
Format:
Audiobook

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Also available as bookBook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

Description

Imagine that a man who was once friendly suddenly spewed hatred. That a girl who flirted with you in the lunchroom refused to look at you. That your coach secretly trained soldiers who would hunt down your family. Jean Patrick Nkuba is a gifted Tutsi boy who dreams of becoming Rwanda’s first Olympic medal contender in track. When the killing begins, he is forced to flee, leaving behind the woman, the family, and the country he loves. Finding them again is the race of his life.
 
Spanning ten years during which a small nation was undone by ethnic tension and Africa’s worst genocide in modern times, this novel explores the causes and effects of Rwanda’s great tragedy from Nkuba’s point of view. His struggles teach us that the power of love and the resilience of the human spirit can keep us going and ultimately lead to triumph.
Released:
Jan 3, 2012
ISBN:
9781611745672
Format:
Audiobook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook


About the author

NAOMI BENARON holds an MFA and a master of science degree in earth sciences, is a certified orthopedic massage therapist and an Ironman triathlete, teaches online for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, and works with the Afghan Women’s Writing Project online and with African refugees in Arizona. She speaks French, was once fluent in Hebrew and is learning Kinyarwanda.

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4.4
17 ratings / 22 Reviews
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  • (5/5)
    This is a story of the Rwandan genocide and a young boy/man who is so fleet of foot that there is every likelihood that he can be a contender in the Olympics. The problem for him was that he is Tutsi in a cold and cruel world dominated by the hatred of the Hutu and their obsession with ridding Rwanda and the world of all Tutsi.The book is beautifully written and is one that once began, is difficult to put down. I found it fascinating, wonderfully hypnotic and horrific all at once. Africa and books of and about it have long held a special place in my heart and this one is certainly no different.I rated it 4 1/2 stars and highly recommend it.
  • (5/5)
    For several years I've participated in"First Editions Club" at The Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA. The store (which has at least on author reading/talk a day) selects a book each month (always a signed first edition) to send to participants. I love it because they select very interesting books, often by relatively unknown authors. Many of the books have gone on to receive importat literary prizes. Anyway, this month they sent "Running the Rift" which is right up there with they best selections they've made. I loved every minute of it plus it prompted me to find out more about the background to the horrific Rwandan genocide of the 1990's. Definitely a worthwhile read.
  • (4/5)
    The story of the Rwandan genocide is an important one that needs to be told and Naomi Benaron does that in Running the Rift. Although I was engaged in the story from beginning to end, I found myself wishing that she had used richer, more complex language and even though I could sympathize with her characters, I never felt intimately involved with them - I wish they had more depth.
  • (4/5)
    I am an occasional runner. I go through spurts when I am good about getting myself out on the road and putting in miles and other times when I can't motivate myself off the couch. But I have that luxury. Running is never going to substantially change my life, well aside from changing my general fitness level a hair. None of this is the case with the main character in Naomi Benaron's novel Running the Rift winner of the Bellwether Prize for Fiction. He must literally run for his life.Jean Patrick Nkuba is a young boy Tutsi boy living in Rwanda when the novel opens. He likes to race against his older brother outside their home at the boarding school where their father is a teacher. But tragedy comes early to their family when their father is killed in a car accident. After ethnically motivated bullying, Jean Patrick's mother moves the family to her brother's home sooner than planned and away from the school. Jean Patrick and his siblings know that they will have to work harder and be smarter than their Hutu peers in order to go back to the school on a scholarship and have a chance in life. In Jean Patrick's case, not only is he very smart and driven, he is also a very gifted runner whose talents on the track will ultimately carry his Tutsi family, friends, and neighbors' dreams on his back.As the ethnic violence escalates, Jean Patrick is somewhat protected by his elite athletic status having qualified for the Olympic trials and been given a falsified Hutu identity card by his coach. Jean Patrick is not only driven to run, it literally carries him above the horror played out all over the country. But it can only save him for so long. As he trains hard and tries to shut out the reality of life for his own ethnic minority, he entrusts his coach with his safety and indeed his very life. Jean Patrick's drive and desire, his training regimen even in the face of greater and tighter restrictions, and the politicizing of sport all wind through the narrative no matter what evils overtake the rest of Rwandan society. And it's on a training run that he catches sight of the captivating Bea and meets her Hutu family who risk their own safety to speak out against the killings, a chance meeting that will forever change the trajectory of his life. As he falls in love with Bea, he thinks that he must decide whether his destiny is with her or in his dream of the Olympic track but in fact, there will be no choice. Instead, he will have to run to escape in order to survive and to eventually bear witness to the atrocities.Benaron has done a good job showing how neighbor can suddenly turn against neighbor and how hatred can grow and consume everything in its path, leaving no one untouched. It translates the impersonality of numbers (over 800,000 people are estimated to have been killed) into the deeply personal tale of one gifted young man and the family and people he loved, showing what genocide means on a micro-level and allowing the reader to feel a kick to the gut in a way that abstract numbers do not inspire. The rising tension as the book progresses is masterful as Jean Patrick doesn't yet seem to understand he is running the race of his life in trying to become an Olympian before full scale bloodshed breaks out. The politics and history behind the 1994 genocide is well researched and well-presented through the use of secondary characters so that it is always fully integrated into the novel. Jean Patrick himself was a naive character and that was occasionally frustrating given the clear and obvious view of what was coming. Not always an easy read (although much of the graphic violence occurs off the page), this is an important look at evil and the slowness of healing in its wake.
  • (2/5)
    I was expecting to be blown away by this book when I saw the Goodreads rating. What happened in Rwanda is an important and horrifying story but I felt the characters were not that interesting and the plot fumbled along.
  • (4/5)
    This novel took me forever to get through. I had to check it out of the library twice. The fault is not in the writing in the story but rather the subject matter. The novel centers on the Hutu and Tutsi conflict/ genocide in Rwanda which does not make for light reading. I found myself inclined to set the book aside for more escapist choices. I am glad I made it to the finish though. The last chapters were explosive.The protagonist of the story is Jean Patrick. His father has died in an auto accident when we first meet him but he has the gift of being an Olympic caliber runner which has the possibility to transform is life. That is if he can survive the coming genocide. Jean is Tutsi which is the ethnic minority in Rwanda. At first this just causes mild discomfort but as the conflict escalates it becomes very dangerous. His coach secures him a Hutu card so that he can be safe. The Hutu and Tutsi look so much alike that they have to have identification cards to distinguish them apart. It brings to mind the Dr. Suess story about the Sneetches who's only difference is that some have stars on their bellies and this sets up the social class. Eventually the Sneetches without stars figure out to get them and then no one can tell the Sneetches apart. Which brings me back to the point that no one can really tell the Tutsi and Hutu apart either. The fact that they are so alike does nothing to stem the hate and the violence reaches the tipping point. The descriptions of the massacre were some of the hardest pages to read.Even though Jean Patrick endures unimaginable loss and hardship, life goes on even when it does not seem possible. This book does not dissect the origin of the conflict. Instead it shows the unfolding horror through a group of characters that seem like they could be your next door neighbors. I highly recommend Running the Rift to anyone interested in learning about the emotional impact of the Rwanda genocide.
  • (5/5)
    "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.
  • (5/5)
    Very good. Learned so much about the Rwandan conflict.
  • (5/5)
    I remember hearing on the news and reading in the papers about the genocide in Rawanda, the racial strife between the Hutus and the Tutsis, but I really didn't understand what was going on and I forgot a very important thing. Until this courageous book with the wonderful characters of Jean Patrick and his family. I didn't think about the people living there, normal families with dreams and hopes, living during this terrible time just trying to exist, find love and take care of their own. Thanks to Benaron, I understand so much more, but the story within the telling was very well written and heartfelt, though horrible at times. Books like this make one think and that is a very good thing. As I read this I felt, angry, sad, appalled and at times even joyful and a writer that makes one feel all that is truly unique.
  • (5/5)
    "If you stretch a spring long enough, far enough, the metal will fail and the spring will snap. The same with a human body. The same with a human heart. The same, even, with a country."In Running the Rift, Naomi Benaron keeps the plot pulled as tightly as a spring, building tension across chapters and across the years leading up to the Rwandan genocide. The story focuses on Jean Patrick, a Tutsi whose father is killed when he is young. He is raised by his mother, his aunt and uncle, and an extended set of family and friends, and he dreams of becoming an Olympic runner. When he begins working with the track coach at his school, it seems that his dreams may come true. However, he is so focused on running that he often ignores the increasing tension between Hutu and Tutsi, until it becomes impossible to ignore. Benaron brings Rwanda to life. The book is filled with images, colors, and sounds that made me understand the Rwandan saying, "God spends the day elsewhere, but He sleeps in Rwanda." Because she created such beautiful images, the images of destruction were even more powerful. Jean Patrick's reluctance to see the danger signs is believable and provides an interesting lens on the conflict. I read the final 100 pages breathlessly as so many of the characters who I felt connected to were put in harm's way. Even though it is only February, this book is a strong contender for one of my best reads of the year. It also won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, which was established by Barbara Kingsolver to promote fiction that address issues of social justice.
  • (4/5)
    A genocide is a poisonous bush that grows not from two or three roots, but from a whole tangle that has moldered underground without anyone noticing.Claudine, genocide survivor, from "Life Laid Bare" by Jean HatzfeldSo says the epigraph of this disturbing but necessary novel. Yes, we do have the benefit of hindsight, but it seems like the victims definitely noticed this growing. It was very obvious to them what was coming and the world stood by and watched it happen. I’ve always thought that if we eliminated the arms trade things like this would not happen. Or at least they would happen in smaller magnitudes than the Holocaust and other genocidal tragedies. But although grenades, RPGs, and guns were used by the Hutu to massacre the Tutsi, there were also plenty of machetes, homemade clubs, rocks, and fire. Hatred can find a way unless it is countered. And we must find ways to counter it or we are doomed to watch and read this story over and over again. This is a gripping novel. It’s not for the light hearted looking for a diversion from the trials and tribulations of life. It’s dark and scary. But if you can stick with it, you’ll probably realize that your life could be considerably worse. You’ll be charmed by the protagonist, Jean Patrick, and pulling for him to realize his Olympic dream. Despite the hindsight of knowing what is going to happen, you will hope along with him and his Tutsi family and friends that it won’t. This winner of the Bellwether Prize for socially engaged fiction is well worth the read. Read it and think about weeding out the hatred you see around you and within you before it gets to a point like this. A shout out to the Indispensable crew at Powell’s Books for putting this novel in my hands!Urupfu rurarya ntiruhaga. Death eats and is never full.--Book Three Epigraph
  • (5/5)
    Running the Rift is a slow moving novel but it is never boring. It gives great detail into what it is like as a young person growing up in Rwanda in political upheaval. I learned what being a student is like, you don't get to pick the subjects you study or how important family is, having Easter dinner all together, or how dating couples behave , no kissing in public... What it is like to be a Tutsi in a country where Tutsi are made into the political scapegots of the Hutu. The tribal likeness and differences are well described These traditions are alive and so well described in this book. Jean Patrick faces many trials in his young life as he tries to make his way as a 800 meter runner aiming for the Olympics. All these come to an abrupt halt when political murders cause the genocide that even in print is difficult to read let alone understand. Why was Rawanda abandon by the world? This book is important and I learned a lot.
  • (3/5)
    The story of a boy during the Rwanda genocide. Depressing of course. Somehow I didn't feel very connected to the characters and didn't think the story moved along enough to keep my attention.
  • (3/5)
    I have to wonder if I would have enjoyed this more if I was reading it, and not listening to it. It's not that the narrator did a poor job, but he contributed to the feeling (or created it) that the writing was choppy. I thought the author threw a thought or idea out there and then just didn't finish it. There were places where I thought there should have been another sentence or two there.

    If the subject of the novel had been anything other than the Rwandan genocide, I probably would not have finished it. The first half of the novel would have earned it 2 stars and it didn't pick up until Book 3. To be honest, part of the problem was that I didn't like the main character. His naivete, which was sweet when he was younger, was simply infuriating as he got older. And I felt like the author brushed over some of the loss scenes. The main character's father, then beloved sister dies, and the novel moves on, in my opinion, without the main character grieving. The scene where the main character is on the phone with his mentor and a school full of refugees, as the army is barging on the door to kill them all, is tear jerking. But when Jean Patrick gets off the phone, there's nothing. No shock, no horror, no grief, just the next scene. And then towards the end, all but one brother is killed. His WHOLE family is murdered, and it felt to me like the effect that would have on a person was brushed over.

    On the other hand, I believed in the connection between Jean Patrick and Bea. And as I finished the book two days ago, I do still find myself thinking about it. "Haunting" is an apt description of this novel. Overall, I think it had a lot more potential and fell short in several areas. Yet, the story has stayed with me.

  • (4/5)
    The first part seemed a bit flat, almost juvenile, but as I read further I became more engrossed and accepted that a story of Jean Patrick's childhood could be more simple. The complex politics became revealed interwoven with the lives of the people, so we learned the history of Rwanda without ever feeling lectured. As I finished the fourth part I was utterly depressed. While the last sections were probably necessary to keep the reading audience engaged in a positive future for Rwanda, it seemed too miraculous to be believed.While I stumbled a bit every time I came across Kinyarwanda phrases, overall they added to understanding the culture, as did the way different maxims were genuinely used by the people as motivators or guidance.
  • (5/5)
    Beautifully written story of a young boy caught in the political upheaval in Rwanda. The characters were well written, the book was engrossing and emotional and conveyed the beauty and strength of the Rwandan people even through the horrors of the unspeakable genocide. The cultural references made the book so much richer and interesting and I learned a lot about Rwanda. A very rewarding read.
  • (4/5)
    Joy's review: The story of a Rwandan boy who wants to run in the Olympica. This is a very well-told tragic tale of the Rwandan genocide. Very difficult, but also very important subject. The story left me wondering: "how do these things happen and how can neighbors fo this to each other?"
  • (5/5)
    Running the Rift is the story of Jean Patrick Nkuba, growing up in Rwanda, having a huge talent for running, a talent that could see him in the Olympics. But Jean Patrick is a Tutsi in a country controlled and run by the Hutu and as the restrictions tighten and violence escalates will he survive the brutality much less make it to the Olympics?The story covers fourteen years, and is paced much like a long-distance race, starting off slowly, taking the time to describe the country and it’s inhabitants. We learn of one family’s strengths, how much they love and respect each other through good times and bad, and we see Jean Patrick slowing growing into a runner. The middle part of the book increases in speed slowing, allow the tensions to build as we read of Jean Patrick’s university years, he is training hard now but also he is being confronted with the inequality and the force of power that exists, but he is also falling in love, which in a country like Rwanda that judges people by their ethnic classification, can be very dangerous. The final third of the book is the sprint to the finish, the political situation comes to a head, the genocide erupts and as the killings mount and the radio blares out hatred and lists of names to be killed, Jean Patrick finally runs the race of his life.Running the Rift was a very layered story, moving the reader through this beautiful country that was seething with hatred, fear and ignorance just beneath the surface. I found this book to be riveting, thought-provoking and emotionally stirring. Naomi Benaron breathed life into these characters and delivered a first class story.
  • (4/5)
    The book is set in Rwanda and tells the story of Jean Patricks Nkuba who loves long distance running and dreams of participating in the Olympics – something he could very well do, given his aptitude and passion.His success in hampered by the outbreak of the (recent) Rwandan genocide between the Hutus and the Tutsis who were, until then, neighbors and friends. The author is an American who has done extensive work among genocide survivor groups in Rwanda. Her descriptions of the African landscape is lush and her characters are real and likable, especially Sean Patrick and his beloved, gorgeous Beatrice.This was a good African read. It was the winner of the well-deserved Bellwether Prize for Fiction.
  • (5/5)
    Asked what Running the Rift is about, it would be too easy to say it is about the Rwandan genocide. You could also say it's about an Olympic runner. Both of these are correct, but neither really describe what this book is about at its core. I'd say, more than anything else, Benaron's novel is about character. It asks tough questions about morality, courage, honesty, and integrity.

    Given the subject matter, I was hesitant to read this novel. I've read plenty of novels filled with the most horrific scenes pulled from history, but something about the genocide in Rwanda hit me hard. Perhaps it's because it happened in my lifetime. Perhaps my guilt for all my inaction toward issues of social justice is personified in the Western world's reaction to Rwanda. Regardless, I was hesitant to begin this novel, but I did, and I'm glad I made it over that initial fear.

    Despite the horrifying events which take place in Running the Rift, Benaron somehow manages to keep the novel light. She doesn't do this by ignoring what happened, or sugar coating it; it seems she does this purely by giving the reader just enough information to know what is going on and peopling the book with characters who make it worth continuing on. This line Benaron walks so carefully displays her natural talents.

    In this novel about character, characters are the novel's best quality and its biggest downfall. The characters we meet in Running the Rift are wonderful. I loved them. I loved them. I wanted to shoot the breeze with Jean Patrick. I wanted to be Daniel's best friend. I wanted to join sides with Roger. And I was all about asking Bea out for a date. These people are lovable and I wanted to know more about them than this story allowed. At the same time, the characters were perhaps a little too lovable. The faults they had—which were very few—could be justified given the time and place. The “good guys” were good. The “bad guys” were bad. I'd have loved to have seen more dynamic characters and some shifting loyalties.

    Running the Rift is a spectacular novel. It is filled with gorgeous language and an unforgettable cast of characters. In spite of the graphic war scenes, it is a clean novel, a rare example of how grittiness can be portrayed accurately without an R-rating. It is a surprisingly enjoyable read and worthy winner of the Bellwether Prize.

    I present Running the Rift with the Best Book of 2012 (so far) award.
  • (4/5)
    This story is set against the horrific backdrop of the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, when gangs of Hutus, sponsored by the government, murdered approximately 800,000 Tutsis (along with pro-peace Hutus labeled as traitors). Rwanda had previously been a Belgian colony. While there were some differences between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes prior to that, the Belgians exacerbated them by insisting on separate ID cards and establishing a power divide between the Tutsi, who got most of the land and the power, and the Hutus, many of whom were forced laborers. The inequality and injustice helped create hatred between the tribes:"'…before the Belgians,' one of the characters in the book explains, 'distinctions were as fluid as the rivers, determined by marriage convenience, and status. Names of rivers changed, but the water remained the same.'” All of that ended with colonization. There had also been mass violence against the Hutu by the Tutsi in neighboring Burundi.The author, in her meticulously accurate portrayal of the run-up to and perpetration of the genocide in Rwanda, records how the country’s media was critical in inciting ethnic hatred and the desire for revenge. The government itself organized neighborhood militias to carry out the killings, even importing a half a million machetes for the use of the Hutu. Youth and alcohol also contributed.Rape was also used as a weapon in the attempt not only to punish and humiliate the Tutsis but to impregnate the women with Hutu children. To some extent the effort backfired, since some 70% of the assault victims were infected with HIV. (Estimates on the number of women raped ranged from 250,000 to half a million.) Hutu women who were considered “moderates” were also subject to rape.The West did very little to respond to pleas for help, except to remove their own white citizens and take them to safety. One character, making calls to influential people he knew, found that:"In Europe, his contacts apologized and said there was nothing they could do. They would keep trying, but no one was listening. Rwanda had no oil or strategic interest, no diamonds or gold.” In the U.S., the Secretary of State under President Clinton refused even to acknowledge that the systematic murder of the Tutsis constituted “genocide.” [In March 1998, on a visit to Rwanda, U.S. President Bill Clinton said: "We come here today partly in recognition of the fact that we in the United States and the world community did not do as much as we could have and should have done to try to limit what occurred" in Rwanda.” He later stated that the "biggest regret" of his presidency was not acting decisively to stop the Rwandan Genocide.]In Running the Rift, all these facts are intimately interwoven with the story of a boy, Jean Patrick Nkuba, living in Cyangugu, Rwanda, who dreams of running in the Olympics one day. The story takes us from 1984, when he was 9, to 1998, when Rwanda is at relative peace. Jean Patrick was a Tutsi, but had never really understood the significance of the difference until the day a brick came crashing through their window with the word “Tutsi” on it:"Since the start of the war, ethnicity grew around him like an extra layer of skin. No matter how he tried, he could not shed it.”As time went on, during the buildup of ethnic hostilities, Jean Patrick’s dreams of Olympic glory were increasingly threatened by his Tutsi status. Hutus harassed him and even injured him. Jean Patrick never felt any hatred himself; his father had taught him all people were the same, that it was impossible to quantify or label distinctions:"Every morning, fishermen went out to the lake, and women and children went to the fields. Hutu or Tutsi, they fetched water, gathered firewood, balanced loads on their heads. In the evening, they padded along paths up the ridge or down into the valley with bare and dusty feet. They cooked, ate, drank beer, and scolded children. In the darkness, men and women lay together and created new life. This was the dance of Rwanda.”And when Jean Patrick meets a Hutu girl, Bea Augustin, he falls deeply in love. You can feel his frustration and sadness as he contemplates a future with her:"Their lives were only starting. How could they be wrenched apart? How could any of them be picked up suddenly, cast down somewhere else, over mere nothings that had never before concerned them?”But then the killing begins, and escape seems impossible. Jean Patrick and Bea both have to make choices, whether to make an improbable attempt at getting away, or to stay and share their fate with their families, with whom they were each so close. There was no way that anyone from Rwanda would survive unscathed, if they survived at all.Evaluation: This is an excellent book and a very good way to learn about the Rwandan genocide from the point of view of innocent citizens who got caught up in the maelstrom.
  • (5/5)
    There are many horrific events in the historical record. The Rwandan Genocide which occurred in 1994 and resulted in the deaths of more than 800,000 people (or close to 20% of the country’s population) is, perhaps, one of the most tragic. The violence took place over a 100 day period, although there were small outbreaks of violence in the years leading up to the tragedy – episodes which pointed to a build up of rage and misunderstanding between two ethnic groups: the Hutu and the Tutsi. The long-standing tension between these two groups escalated in part due to agitation by political and military leaders. The slaughter of hundreds of thousands of civilians occurred while the rest of the world looked on and did nothing.It is this heartbreaking episode of genocide which informs Naomi Benaron’s affecting novel Running the Rift. Benaron opens her story in 1984, ten years before the tragedy, with a young Tutsi boy named Jean Patrick and his family. Jean Patrick loves to run and he has dreams of going on to college despite the difficulty which the Tutsi people face in attending secondary schools. As the chapters unfurl, the years slip past and Jean Patrick comes of age. He is a dreamer, an extraordinary athlete, and a young man with a generous heart. He loves his tight-knit family and clings to the memory of his father. Eventually he finds himself training to become an Olympic runner. He falls in love with a beautiful Hutu woman named Bea who is smart, fiery, and on the path to becoming an activist on the heels of her journalist father. But behind the hope which Jean Patrick holds in his heart, is an uncertain future. There are ominous signs that all is not right in Rwanda. There is the rumble of civil war. There is the hatred toward the Tutsi people being fanned by an outspoken Hutu militaristic government. And, eventually, the day will come when everything Jean Patrick holds dear, including his life, will become threatened.Running the Rift is a heartbreaking, character-driven novel about the resilience of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable horror and loss. Benaron builds her story slowly, taking time to develop the characters and unveil their simple lives against the backdrop of the stunning Rwandan countryside. Jean Patrick lives and breathes on the page, as does his counterpart, Bea. The reader begins to care deeply about these characters and worry for them seeps in as the novel progresses.I turned the final hundred pages of Running the Rift with my heart in my throat and tears in my eyes because at its heart, this book is about individuals. It is not about an historical event. It is about the people, the families, the individual lives which were destroyed or forever changed during those fateful days in 1994. It is unimaginable. It is horrifying.I remember when the Rwandan Genocide happened. I was living in California and I remember the news footage of people laying slaughtered in the streets. I remember asking myself how this could happen and why no one stopped it. What Benaron’s novel does so exquisitely is to get beneath the headlines and examine the daily lives of the people living in Rwanda in the years leading up to the tragedy. She uncovers the tensions and the complexities of a country in flux and how misunderstandings between ethnic groups can grow into something so hate-filled that neighbors and friends can turn on each other.Benaron explores themes of forgiveness and redemption in her novel which I found hopeful. The author has worked with Rwandan genocide survivors and visited Rwanda where she has an adopted son, so her insight into the aftermath of the genocide feels authentic.Running the Rift won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction and it is well deserving of this literary award which recognizes “fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships.” This is a novel which is sublimely crafted and highly recommended.