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Book Review: Running the Rift

Posted by gck Saturday, December 29, 2012

RunningTheRiftRunning the Rift by Naomi Benaron

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: **** (out of 5)
Recommended for: runners, people who read about social issues, anyone who does not know about the Rwandan Genocide

Book 9 of 52 in the “Around the World” Challenge

Back-cover summary:
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 neighbors who shared meals with your family could turn on them and hunt them down. 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.

My review:
This is one of those books where the setting is probably more important than the characters and plot. It’s why I picked up the book in the first place, and I was not disappointed in the portrayal of Rwanda during the time of the genocide. I never watched Hotel Rwanda or learned about any of this in school. It wasn’t until an unrelated documentary I saw at SIFF mentioned the Hutus and Tutsis and the part the Belgians played in their relationship that I started reading about this.

Running the Rift wasn’t on my original list for the Around the World challenge since it was published after I put my list together, but once I saw it mentioned on GoodReads, I knew I needed to add it. I’m still hoping to read a book for this challenge that doesn’t portray Africa as a violent, war-torn place, though! This book didn’t go into a lot of the history behind the genocide, but it did show the way things led up to it and the attitudes of the people. It was interesting to see how things went from the bullying of Tutsis to outright genocide. Having read this, I have become more interested in learning about the history and facts, and I purchased the very cheerfully titled We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: Stories From Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch to read soon.

The premise of the novel is a good one: an aspiring runner trains for his Olympic bid in the midst of the racial tensions in Rwanda. It’s definitely a book for adults, but it reads like a young adult novel, with a quick-moving plot and not a lot of description or character details. I also felt like the very end wrapped things up pretty abruptly. To me, these things are not deal breakers, and I still found it to be a very good read. I had enough investment in the characters that the losses were strongly felt. I was angry for Jean Patrick when he was mistreated, happy for him when he succeeded, and afraid for him when he faced unknown dangers.

Definitely recommended, especially for people (like I was) who are unfamiliar with the Rwandan Genocide.


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