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Baho!: A Novel Paperback – April 12, 2016
This month's Book With Buzz: "The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers "In a Dark, Dark Wood" and "The Woman in Cabin 10" comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel, "The Lying Game." See more
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About the Author
Born in 1986 in Burundi, Roland Rugero grew up in a family where reading was a favorite pastime. He has worked as a journalist in Burundi since 2008. His novels include "Les Oniriques" and "Baho!," the first Burundian novel to be translated into English. Rugero has held residencies at La Rochelle and at Iowa's prestigious International Writing Program. In addition to his work as a writer, in 2011 he wrote and directed "Les pieds et les mains," the second-ever feature-length film from Burundi. Rugero is active in promoting Burundi's literary culture, co-founding the Samandari Workshop and helping found the Michel Kayoza and Andika Prizes. He lives in Kigali, Rwanda.
Christopher Schaefer is a translator from the Spanish and French living in Paris. He has won the Ezra Pound Award for Best Translation from the University of Pennsylvania for his translations of the Cuban poet Javier Marimon. In 2012 he participated in the English PEN Translation Slam at the Poetry Parnassus in London. He lives in Paris.
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Top customer reviews
The story, ostensibly, is of a young mute shepherd who is falsely accused of attempting to rape a girl in a small village in Burundi. Unable to speak and therefore explain that it was all a simple misunderstanding, he is lynched and condemned to die for the presumed sin. While this is the main narrative the author also gives us welcome (and never drawn out) backstories and side-stories to illustrate the culture and contradiction inherent in the multiple points of view presented.
”That is what the sight of Irakoze’s naval has done—it has stopped everything around him and created a gravitation bubble between that small abdominal hollow and [his] astute gaze” (p35)
Throughout the short narrative author Roland Rugero (and with great credit to the book's translator, Christopher Schaefer) offers a simple but brutal indictment on Nyamugari’s accusers. While condemning the heinous act of rape, the townsmen's thoughts largely consist of ogling women and categorizing them into different levels of beauty. They decry rape as an action, but not because it is wrong, not because it is violating a woman's body and her right to sovereignty of self, but instead because it is:
"Sull[ies] precious goods acquired with great value over many years (a dowry, a marriage proposal, and long nights to convince the shy girl)...By raping Kigeme, the cursed mute has defiled all the other women in the region, and the men of Kanya consider themselves all affected." (p26)
The men feel that the rape of a woman is wrong because it takes away the joy of her future husband to be the first to conquer and overcome her ‘virtue’ first. This disregard for the victim (and total lack of respect for women) is illustrated several times by those sentencing Nyamugari; while many of the locals pity the girl (and others who were not so lucky to have escaped their own ordeals), they do so while condemning young girls for showing their legs or belly-buttons in public. How could any man be expected to resist such temptation!?
”The movement of a wild beast. Furtive, in a bare savanna. He can reveal himself eventually, but before overtaking his prey, he can never allow his intentions to show.” (p81)
The character of Jonathan not-so-subtly illustrates the dangers and flash-fire nature of mob-mentality. And the ease in which a charismatic personality can use this and manipulate the masses. Brilliant, both in its present-day presentation as well as the military backstory, Rugero offers a clear warning to the world of how easily manipulated an angry mob can be.
“Empty space” (pp1-90)
“While the novel does not address Hutu-Tutsi tensions, its single mention of ethnicity does propose a position of radical ethnic harmony. The old woman shares the wisdom of her years: all lives are to be valued, not just those of one ethnicity. Then, as quickly as the subject of ethnicity is raised, it is dropped and the narrative moves on.”
-Christopher Schaefer, Translator's Notes
I disagree only slightly with Schaefer's assessment here, and not on the radical ethnic harmony presented but instead with the character of the old woman. I do not actually get the impression that she believes all life should be valued. In terms of race, yes, she seems very egalitarian. In terms of youth or progress, not so much. She views them as hedonistic, dishonest, untrustworthy, and the cause of the recent suffering of her people and country. So she’s just as biased as the rest of the world.
~Generation Gap, Urban v. Rural, or, the Clash of the Cultural Norms~
”Far away in those cities that she has traipsed through two or three times in these last two years, men don’t swear by the ordinary any more. That is to say, they cannot be trusted.” (p42)
The sins of youth and progress are condemned as the cause of all the suffering in the town (region/country), and the death of the young mute boy accused of rape is supposed to bring order back to the people. There is a palpable mistrust of the new and urban generation and their morals, but it serves (as in real life) to seek to place the blame on some outside force instead of looking inward or at the bigger picture. This is not limited to Burundi villages; this is natural (if unfortunate) human trait that is constantly being exploited the world over.
”If hung, swaying in the wind at the summit of Kanya’s hill…of all the hills in the region mothers would lift their faces towards Kanya and say to themselves: There our honor was redeemed! ...The fig tree at the summit of Kanya would be a living monument to the people’s renewed link with the heavens. Rain would come again.” (p74)
The allusions to Christianity are many and are not subtle; they do not need to be subtle, Burundi is a Christian country whose self-identity was fundamentally altered by the Christian missionaries that predate even the vile colonial overlords. I’m not going into detailed analysis on this one, but the author uses his (now totally expected) wit and wisdom in tackling the subject, and imo successfully points out the follies inherent to the superstitious nature of religion.
~War (and it’s aftermath)~
”Everything had returned to normal. Except the hearts of a hundred and nineteen men.” (p89)
The long Burundi Civil War (the many of them, actually) has affected every character in this book, in one way or another. It left orphans, widows, and fire in its wake and no one was spared consequence. Perhaps more so than the youth and urban cultures so deplored by the old, the war is viewed as the both the sin to be punished for and the punishment for even older sins. It is a sad backdrop to place a novel, but it is stunning in its simple condemnation of the suffering the war has caused everyone –obvious and not.