7 November 2012

Rwandan Author's Genocide Novel Wins France's Renaudot Prize

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Scholastique Mukasonga: Her book describes life in an isolated elite girls school and the tensions between Hutu and Tutsi pupils.

A Rwandan author, whose family was massacred in 1994, has won France's prestigious Renaudot prize, even though her book had not made the shortlist. Scholastique Mukasonga thought her informant was joking when told that her book Notre-Dame du Nil (Our Lady of the Nile) was the winner.

Voting went to 10 rounds with the jury of authors and critics unable to agree on a winner.

But then previous Renaudot-winner and Nobel laureate JMG Le Clézio reminded them of Mukasonga's book, which had featured on the longlist in the spring but had dropped out of the running.

Mukasonga, who was in Caen on the Channel coast when the result was announced, was obliged to jump into a train and head for Paris to receive the prize.

Notre-Dame du Nil is set in a boarding school near the source of the Nile at the time that the Rwandan genocide erupted.

As Hutu sectarian thugs surround the school, the plot follows the friendships, enmities, persecutions and incitement to ethnic violence within its walls.

Scholastique Mukasonga's life:

1956: born to a Tutsi family in Rwanda;

1976: moves to Burundi;

1992: moves to France;

1994: Her mother and 26 other members of her family are killed in Rwanda's genocidal violence;

2006: publishes Inyenci our les Cafards (Inyenci or the cockroaches), an autobiographical story;

2008: publishes La femme aux pieds nus (The woman with bare feet), a tribute to her mother;

2012: publishes Notre-Dame du Nil, which wins the Prix Kourouma for African literature and the Prix Renaudot.

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