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Running the Rift Hardcover – January 3, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; 1 edition (January 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781616200428
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616200428
  • ASIN: 1616200421
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,252,783 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2012: No wonder Barbara Kingsolver awarded her 2010 Bellwether Prize, given biennially to an unpublished novel that confronts social issues, to Naomi Benaron's Running the Rift. In her coming-of-age story of young Tutsi Jean Patrick Nkuba, whose extraordinary gift for distance running lands him on the path to become his country's first medalist in track, one of history's most inconceivable chapters--the Rwandan genocide--becomes intensely personal. Out of a childhood marked by loss and overshadowed by mounting Hutu-Tutsi tensions, Jean Patrick draws the strength for grueling Olympic training and the courage to run his life's most crucial race--to save himself and his family. A vividly told tale with a memorable champion at its heart. --Mari Malcolm


Kansas City Star Top 100 Books of 2012

Seattle Times’ 25 Best Books of 2012 list

BookBrowse’s Favorite Books for 2012

"In Naomi Benaron's Running the Rift, a novel full of unspeakable strife but also joy, humor, and love, "hope always [chases] close on the heels of despair," thanks to a writer who knows when to keep a steady pace and when to explode into an all-out sprint." —O, The Oprah Magazine

"Running the Rift encourages us to see the world as a whole, despite the simmering divisions that constantly threaten to erupt. The genocide scars Jean Patrick and scuttles his personal Olympic dream. But other seemingly impossible dreams are realized in this accomplished, comprehending and generous first novel." —Kansas City Star

Running the Rift does not spare readers the horrors of the violence in Rwanda, but never loses sight of the beauty—the love and, yes, the hope—that persists even amid such a desperate situation." —The Wichita Eagle

“This well written and well researched novel is an impressive debut.”—The Seattle Times

 "An auspicious debut . . . Having worked extensively with genocide survivor groups in Rwanda, Benaron clearly acquired a very lucid sense of her characters' lives and of the horrors they endured. Her story tells, with compelling clarity, of Rwandan Tutsi youth, Jean Patrick Nkuba--who dreams of becoming Rwanda's first Olympic medalist. It's a dream he must postpone for more than a decade as the internecine savagery, Hutu vs. Tutsi, slaughters millions and derails the lives of countless others. While it would be counterintuitive to pronounce this a winning, feel-good story, there is something to be said for hope restored. And Naomi Benaron's characters say it well."—The Daily Beast

"This debut novel set against the backdrop of Rwanda's ethnic conflict is a powerful coming-of-age story that highlights the best and worst of human nature."—Christian Science Monitor

"Benaron's focus on this one young man is part of the book's brilliance . . . Benaron writes beautifully about the pain and exhilaration of being an Olympic-level runner (she's a triathlete) . . . It's unbearable, Benaron's genius is that we read on despite it." —BookPage

"This debut novel won the Bellwether Prize, created and funded by author Barbara Kingsolver to promote fiction that addresses issues of social justice. A more fitting choice would be hard to find." —Shelf Awareness

“In a finely crafted story of dreams, illusions, hard reality, and reaching the other side of fear, Benaron has bestowed upon the world a story that illuminates events on a national scale by showing their effects at the personal level.”—ForeWord Reviews

"Benaron accomplishes the improbable feat of wringing genuine loveliness from unspeakable horror . . . It is a testament to Benaron's skill that a novel about genocide . . . conveys so profoundly the joys of family, friendship, and community." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Awarded the prestigious Bellwether Prize for its treatment of compelling social issues, Benaron’s first novel is a gripping, frequently distressing portrait of destruction and ultimate redemption... Benaron sheds a crystalline beacon on an alarming episode in global history, and her charismatic protagonist leaves an indelible impression.”—Booklist

"First novelist Benaron, who has actively worked with refugee groups, won the 2010 Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction for this unflinching and beautifully crafted account of a people and their survival. In addition, she compellingly details the growth and rigorous training of a young athlete. . . Highly recommended; readers who loved Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner will appreciate."—Library Journal, starred review

"The politics will be familiar to those who have followed Africa’s crises (or seen Hotel Rwanda), but where Benaron shines is in her tender descriptions of Rwandan’s natural beauty and in her creation of Jean Patrick, a hero whose noble innocence and genuine human warmth are impossible not to love." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Rich characterization and insights about Rwandan culture make this book a pleasure to read, and Jean Patrick impossible not to root for . . . Running the Rift is a profound display of imagination and empathy. Benaron writes like Jean Patrick runs, with the heart of a lion.”
The Dallas Morning News

“[Benaron] writes with an earnest clarity, bringing the boy to manhood and imparting to readers a culturally rich and unflinching story of resilience and resistance.”
Chicago Tribune, editor’s choice

“A novel full of unspeakable strife but also joy, humor, and love.”
O: The Oprah Magazine

“A powerful coming-of-age story that highlights the best and the worst of human nature.”
The Christian Science Monitor

“[An] unflinching and beautifully crafted account of a people and their survival. In addition, she compellingly details the growth and rigorous training of a young athlete . . . Highly recommended; readers who loved Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner will appreciate.”
Library Journal, starred review

More About the Author

Naomi Benaron's debut novel, RUNNING THE RIFT, is the winner of the 2010 Bellwether prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. She was born and raised in Boston Massachusetts and is a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Before she lost her mind and decided to devote her life to writing, she worked for many years as a geophysicist and seismologist. She has lived on a sailboat, worked on a Kibbutz, and traveled extensively. She works with Afghan Women through the Afghan Women's Writing Project, an online space where the women of Afghanistan can write in safety and freedom.

Her passion in writing revolves around issues of social justice. Her short story collection, Love Letters from a Fat Man, won the 2006 Sharat Chandra Prize for fiction. Her Bellwether Prize novel, about a young Tutsi boy growing up in the years leading up to the genocide in Rwanda, is published by Algonquin Books.
Her dog Scout is a published poet. Her dog JillyRoo is happy just to be a dog.

Customer Reviews

The story is beautifully told and the history of the genocides in Rwanda is woven in.
Kira B.
The conversation between characters flowed awkwardly and the characters seemed a bit too good or too bad, not very complex or deep.
Kim Overstreet
I love this novel on all fronts - it is well written with wonderful characters that I fell in love with.
Cheryl L.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Brody TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Running the Rift begins in Rwanda in 1994 and takes the reader through 1998. It is the story of the horrific genocide that devastated the country and pitted neighbor against neighbor. It is also the story of individuals - their dreams, hopes and wreckage.

When the Belgians occupied Rwanda, they classified the people who spoke one language and shared one culture into two separate groups - the Hutus and the Tutsis. They did this by observing the physical characteristics of the people. The Tutsis tended to be thinner and lankier with smaller noses. The Hutus tended to be more muscular and had a stronger, stockier appearance. After these two groups were named, the balance of power shifted repeatedly between them. Sometimes the Tutsis held power and at other times the Hutus did.

At the time that this novel opens, the Hutus are gaining power and want to eradicate the Tutsis who they call `cockroaches' or `dog eaters'. The bloodshed is horrific and no one in this country is spared the death of loved ones or family. President Habyarimana has just seized power and states that he will make the country whole again. However, his words are empty. He is surrounded by thugs who support the genocide. He rules with empty promises. The United Nations have some troops in Rwanda but they are ineffective. The western countries seem not to care what is happening here and do not intervene to put a stop to the bloodshed.

The main protagonist in this novel is a young man named Jean Patrick, a focused and determined student and runner. Despite being a Tutsi, he has the top grades in his class and is accepted into a private boarding school. Jean Patrick is such a good runner that he hopes to make the Olympic team. It looks promising for him.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By KA on January 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Although this story takes place amidst the Hutu/Tutsi conflict, the underlying question of how one retains humanity in the face of horrific acts of hatred is a universal challenge. The incredible sense of place and time portrayed by Benaron intriguingly does not leave the reader with the comfortable excuse "that was another time, another place" but instead leaves one with the sense this could happen any time, any place. The underlying best and worst of human nature is what she really leads us to consider.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Unhappy dude on February 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a beautifully told novel...loved the language, poetry of verse and unforgetable characters. I highly recommend this book. It is a fast paced and engrossing read.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By T. Sullivan VINE VOICE on February 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Others have outlined the plot of this book. As someone who knew nothing about Rwanda except for the movie "Hotel Rwanda", I appreciated the rich context this work of fiction gave to what life was life before, during and after the unimaginable things that happened in Rwanda.

I was so taken with the main character, Jean Patrick, and the juxtaposition with the character Jonathan, the American professor, who befriends him. This was a book I couldn't put down and I'm so grateful for the lesson it taught about humanity, love and hate, and specifically about the beauty and the horror of Rwanda. I honestly could not put this book down.

This book makes me want to read everything else Ms. Benaron writes from now on, because she has a gift for storytelling and a passion for her subject that makes everything she writes come to life. I would recommend this novel to anybody who appreciates beautiful writing. And you just might learn a ton about Rwanda too.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Julia Flyte TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jean-Patrick Nkuba is a Tutsi boy growing up in rural Rwanda. He is a bright student and a gifted runner, fast enough to potentially qualify for the Olympics. He was named after an uncle who was killed in a 1973 massacre of the Tutsi people, but such violence between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples now seems long in the past.

The story takes place between 1984 and 1998. Over the years the tension gradually builds between the two groups as the Tutsi people become increasingly harrassed and the media inflames racial divisions. Jean-Patrick's brother joins the RPF, a Tutsi rebel group, but Jean-Patrick heads to university and trains to be an Olympic runner. He befriends an American geology professor and falls in love with a Hutu girl. Sporadically violence against Tutsis erupts, but Jean-Patrick chooses to believe that his high profile running talent (and his well connected coach) will protect him from persecution. Meanwhile we - the reader - have a sense of dread from the outset that grows ever stronger.

This book pulled me in immediately. The sense of place is palpable. You can almost feel, smell and taste Rwanda as you read it. While it is fiction, it feels so real that I found it hard to believe that this wasn't a true story and that Benaron isn't Rwandan (she's not). It takes you inside Jean-Patrick's head and you can understand why he ignores so many warning signs and warnings from friends about the tensions that are building. It's so much easier to stick to the beliefs that you were raised with, even when the evidence against them is so overwhelming. When the genocide comes, some Hutus turn on their friends and lovers, but others will risk and even sacrifice their own lives to save their countrymen.
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