Jean Patrick Nkuba is a young Tutsi who dreams of becoming Rwanda's first Olympic medal contender in track. With the guidance of his coach and the support of his countrymen he trains for the 800 metres and prepares for his entrance to the world stage. But the year is 1994 and Rwanda is thrown into a turmoil that no one is prepared for. As the killing begins, Jean Patrick is forced to flee the country, leaving behind his family and the woman he loves. Jean Patrick finds himself in the most important race of his life.
Running the Rift by Namoi Benaron is an incredible novel set in the midst of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 that left more than 800,000 people dead in just 100 days. The novel won the Bellwether Prize for socially engaged fiction in 2010.
This is an incredible, haunting and powerful novel. It recreates the atmosphere of Rwanda in the years leading up to the genocide and gives the reader insight into that which is difficult to understand - how so many people, neighbours and friends, can become gripped by hatred.
This is the first book in a while that has made me cry. The Rwandan genocide is something that I have read a lot on over the years but all of that work has been non-fiction. This is the first piece of fiction concerning the genocide I have read and it is a remarkable work. Benaron is not Rwandan herself but was drawn to writing this book through her love of running and the heartbreaking stories she heard while working with Rwandan refugees in the United States. It is obvious that Benaron has done her research put her heart and soul into this book as the genocide does not merely serve as a backdrop to the story.
The characters are well-written and represent a variety of views and backgrounds in Rwanda. Jean Patrick is a Tutsi who was raised to not make a distinction between the two groups of people. His brother Roger leaves the family home to join the RPF, the Tutsi insurgents. Bea, Jean Patrick's girlfriend is a moderate Hutu whose family writes and fights for a united Rwanda and is against the killing. Along the way many other characters come into play including Hutu extremists and white American outsiders in the country. One of the most striking characters to me was a young woman who constituted only a few sentences in the entire book, a girl who before the genocide began rallied for a united Rwanda but once the killing began took up the Hutu cause and was spewing the hatred that so many became wrapped up in.
I highly recommend this book. If you're familiar with the events you will applaud and appreciate this book. If you're not very familiar with the events, which unfortunately many of us are, this is a great book to start with to help you understand what went on in Rwanda and what needs to be done so something like this will never happen in our world again. This book should be required reading for everyone.