Summary and book reviews of Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron

Running the Rift

A Novel

By Naomi Benaron

Running the Rift
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2012,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2012,
    400 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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Book Summary

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 The Bellwether Prize is awarded biennially by Barbara Kingsolver for an unpublished novel that addresses issues of social justice and was previously awarded to The Girl Who Fell from the Sky and Mudbound.

1984
ONE

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Discuss the various ways in which you see the question of identity addressed in Running the Rift.
  2. What reasons do you see for the Tutsi living in Uganda to invade Ruhengeri in 1991? How does it fit into the broader conflict between Hutu and Tutsi? Why do you think Roger joined the RPF?
  3. What can you say about the class system in Rwanda after reading Running the Rift?
  4. How did the Belgians exploit the class system, and how did this exploitation eventually contribute to the genocide?
  5. Running can be seen as a metaphorical theme throughout Running the Rift. Why does Jean Patrick run from any awareness of politics? What challenges does the political reality in Rwanda pose in terms of his own belief system?
  6. Physics and geology are two more...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

[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 Members Only (1094 words).

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This powerful novel recounts inhumanity on a scale scarcely imaginable, yet rebukes its nihilism, countering unforgivable violence with small mercies and unyielding hope.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Readers who do not shy away from depictions of violence will find this tale of social justice a memorable read, and those interested in coming-of-age stories set in wartime will want it as well. Highly recommended.

Daily Beast

An auspicious debut... While it would be counterintuitive to pronounce this a winning, feel-good story, there is something to be said for hope restored.

ForeWord Reviews

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.

Kirkus Reviews

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.

Booklist

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.

Author Blurb Barbara Kingsolver, founder of the Bellwether Prize, author of The Poisonwood Bible
Truly fearless writing... culturally rich and completely engrossing.

Reader Reviews
Diane S.

Running the Rift
I remember hearing on the news and reading in the papers about the genocide in Rawanda, the racial strife between the Hutus and the Tutsis, but I really didn't understand what was going on and I forgot a very important thing. Until this courageous ...   Read More

Barb

Amazing Book!
"Running The Rift" by Naomi Benaron is an incredible tribute to all who perished in the Rwanda genocide in the early 1990's while the world looked the other way. I picked it up because of the wonderful cover & a quick peek at the book ...   Read More

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Reactions to The Rwandan Genocide

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.

President Habyarimana 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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