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 The Bellwether Prize is awarded biennially by Barbara Kingsolver for an unpublished novel that addresses issues of social justice and was previously awarded to The Girl Who Fell from the Sky and Mudbound.
[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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Barbara Kingsolver, founder of the Bellwether Prize, author of The Poisonwood Bible
Truly fearless writing... culturally rich and completely engrossing.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by 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
Rated of 5
by 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
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 days.
The international community's apathy to these killings was almost as shocking. Even as thousands of Tutsis were being slaughtered,...
The riveting life story of hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina who, as his country was being torn apart by violence during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, sheltered more than 12,000 members of the Tutsi clan and Hutu moderates, while homicidal mobs raged outside with machetes.
The powerful and inspiring debut from Susan Nussbaum invites us into a landscape populated with young people whose lives have been irreversibly changed by misfortune but whose voices resound with resilience, courage, and humor.
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