Running the Rift follows Jean Patrick Nkuba, a gifted Rwandan boy, from the day he knows that running will be his life to the moment he must run to save his life, a ten-year span in which his country is undone by the Hutu-Tutsi tensions. Born a Tutsi, he is thrust into a world where it's impossible to stay apolitical - where the man who used to sell you gifts for your family now spews hatred, where the girl who flirted with you in the lunchroom refuses to look at you, where your Hutu coach is secretly training the very soldiers who will hunt down your family. Yet in an environment increasingly restrictive for the Tutsi, he holds fast to his dream of becoming Rwanda's first Olympic medal contender in track, a feat he believes might deliver him and his people from this violence. When the killing begins, Jean Patrick is forced to flee, leaving behind the woman, the family, and the country he loves. Finding them again is the race of his life.
This is the third Bellwether Prize winner published by Algonquin. The Bellwether Prize is awarded biennially by Barbara Kingsolver for an unpublished novel that addresses issues of social justice and was previously awarded to The Girl Who Fell from the Sky and Mudbound.
Jean Patrick was already awake, listening to the storm, when Papa opened the door and stood by the side of the bed. Rain hissed at the windows and roared against the corrugated roof, and Jean Patrick huddled closer to his brother Roger for warmth. He remembered then that Papa was going to a conference in Kigali. He said it was a very important meeting; educators from all across Rwanda would be there.
"I'm leaving now," Papa whispered, his voice barely louder than the rain. "Uwimana will be here soon to pick me up." If even Headmaster was going, Jean Patrick thought, the conference must be top level.
The lantern flame glinted on Papa's glasses and on a triangle of white shirt; the storm must have knocked the power out, as usual. "You boys will have to check the pen carefully after you bring the cattle in. Make sure no earth has washed away in the rain." He tucked the blanket around their shoulders. "And Roger - you'll have to check Jean Patrick's lessons. I don't want any ...
[E]ven though this novel's subject matter offers plenty of opportunities for gratuitous violence and melodrama, Benaron thankfully steers clear of both. Through much of Jean Patrick's training, Coach emphasizes pace - the key to running the 800-metre, we learn, is not to burn out early. Benaron, herself a competitive runner once, seems to have translated this lesson well to the pages of her debut novel - which turns out to be a precisely paced, taut read.
(Reviewed by Poornima Apte).
Full Review (1094 words).
While the Hutu and Tutsi clans have been in Rwanda for centuries, it was after the Belgian colonialists took over the country in 1916 that categorizations into Hutu and Tutsi were made more explicit through the use of ethnic identity cards. The minority Tutsi were largely favored for government jobs early on in the colonial government and decades of resentment simmered until things went completely haywire in April 1994.
It was then that the President of Rwanda, Juvénal Habyarimana, was killed in a suspicious plane accident along with the president of neighboring Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira. The Tutsis were immediately blamed and in a campaign of sustained genocide, over 800,000 Tutsi and Hutu moderates were killed in just 100 ...
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