Kinyamaswa: An Epic Poem
This story is the telling of the Rwanda genocide and its aftermath. It focuses on a group of refugees fleeing their country that has disintegrated into tribal warfare. The escape takes them through villages and forests to a final and tragic confrontation on a bridge. Told in the form the refugees’ ancestral legends might have been told, alternating prose with verse, the story unfolds from the points of view of the group’s nameless commander, their nurse, a priest, and one of his followers. Throughout the story are short vignettes of other refugees and their tragic circumstances: lives, families, and innocence lost in the madness their country has descended into.
This is the most beautiful story on the topic of war that I’ve read. I have some understanding of the context of the story, the genocide that took place in Rwanda twenty years ago, when hostilities between different tribal groups erupted and the country was thrown into chaos, opposing tribe members sometimes attacking each other with machetes. I wanted, but didn’t need, to review that history as I was reading. Although the story is steeped in a culture of palm wine, French phrases, and bridal parties, it is a universal story as well. War affects everyone in much the same way, in its theft of all that is valuable in life and ending in death. This story traces war’s metaphoric destructive path in the literal path of the refugees flight and their increasingly dire circumstances and final disaster. The structure of the story is part of its beauty, with passages of prose alternating with verse. For example, one battle sequence, an attack on the refugees as they sleep, is told first in verse and then in prose. Scenes of loss punctuate the story as family members are ripped from each other by death or otherwise. Also are scenes of the compassion such circumstances usually provoke: the fallen stranger’s child adopted, the injured peer carried to safety. And in the end, as with almost all real and fiction war stories, after the death is the rebirth and renewal.
Apprentice House Press