Nominated by:

Bibliothèques Municipales Genève, Switzerland

Publisher of nominated edition:

Archipelago Books, USA

Our Lady of the Nile

Scholastique Mukasonga      

Translated from the French by Melanie Mauthner

2016 Shortlist

Judges’ comments

Our Lady of the Nile, Scholastique Mukasonga’s first novel, is a work of great subtlety and power. Set in Rwanda, in an elite Catholic boarding school for young women, this is a classic coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of a country slowly sliding into chaos and violence. It’s a book about friendship, about fear, about prejudice and hate. The book’s profound moral and psychological insights are more than matched by a plot that swerves and surprises and by characters whose misunderstandings and petty grievances have the most terrible consequences. A book of horrors and delights.

About the Book

Scholastique Mukasonga drops us into an elite Catholic boarding school for young women perched on the ridge of the Nile. Parents send their daughters to Our Lady of the Nile to be molded into respectable citizens . . . and to escape the dangers of the outside world. Fifteen years prior to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, we watch as these girls try on their parents’ preconceptions and attitudes, transforming the lycée into a microcosm of the country’s mounting racial tensions and violence. In the midst of the interminable rainy season, everything unfolds behind the closed doors of the school: friendship, curiosity, fear, deceit, prejudice, and persecution. With a masterful prose that is at once subtle and penetrating, Mukasonga captures a society hurtling toward horror.

(from publisher)

About the Author

Born in Rwanda, Scholastique Mukasonga experienced from childhood the violence and humiliation of the ethnic conflicts that shook her country. In 1960, her family was displaced to the polluted and under-developed Bugesera district of Rwanda. She settled in France in 1992, only 2 years before the brutal genocide of the Tutsi swept through Rwanda. In the aftermath, Mukasonga learned that 27 of her family members had been massacred. Her autobiographical account Inyenzi ou les Cafards, marked Mukasonga’s entry into literature. Her first novel Our Lady of the Nile, won the Ahamadou Kourouma prize and the Renaudot prize, as well as the Océans France Ô prize and the French Voices Award4.

Librarian’s Comments

Set in a boarding school for girls from rich families in the mountains of Rwanda. Run by Hutus, it must have a quota of 10% Tutsi girls, who must show more intelligence to succeed. This story gives the opportunity to describe the social and political climate in Rwanda before the terror of 1994. A powerful and harrowing novel.

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