Imagine a history written like a fable. A drought-stricken Rwandan town encroached by Belgian missionaries must decide whether to ask the deities of their ancestors for help or assimilate and pray to the Christian God. A woman on a nearby hilltop who has been denounced as a pagan witch is one of the few who believe that they can conjure a legendary force to help them. But can she bring back the rain? Will her people defy the missionaries who seek to destroy their culture?— From Shannon D
A new masterwork of satire, lore, and living memory from the leading voice of French-Rwandan literature
“Mukasonga breathes upon a vanished world and brings it to life in all its sparkling multifariousness” --J.M. Coetzee
In four beautifully woven parts, Mukasonga spins a marvelous recounting of the clash between ancient Rwandan beliefs and the missionaries determined to replace them with European Christianity.
When a rogue priest is defrocked for fusing the gospels with the martyrdom of Kibogo, a fierce clash of cults ensues. Swirling with the heady smell of wet earth and flashes of acerbic humor, Mukasonga brings to life the vital mythologies that imbue the Rwandan spirit. In doing so, she gives us a tale of disarming simplicity and profound universal truth.
Kibogo’s story is reserved for the evening’s end, when women sit around a fire drinking honeyed brew, when just a few are able to stave off sleep. With heads nodding, drifting into the mist of a dream, one faithful storyteller will weave the old legends of the hillside, stories which church missionaries have done everything in their power to expunge.
To some, Kibogo’s tale is founding myth, celestial marvel, magic incantation, bottomless source of hope. To white priests spritzing holy water on shriveled, drought-ridden trees, it looms like red fog over the village: forbidden, satanic, a witchdoctor’s hoax. All debate the twisted roots of this story, but deep down, all secretly wonder – can Kibogo really summon the rain?
Mark Polizzotti is a biographer, critic, translator of more than fifty books, editor, and poet. He is the author of Sympathy for the Traitor, Highway 61 Revisited, Revolution of the Mind: The Life of André Breton. Polizzotti directs the publications program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
--Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
"A searing tale of contending gods, religions, and economies in colonial Rwanda . . . As Mukasonga’s story opens, a village subchief, bribed by a "Colonial" with “a watch, a pair of sunglasses, a bottle of port wine, two jerry cans of gasoline, [and] a swath of fabric for his wife and daughters,” rounds up the children to serve in the war effort against Germany by harvesting anti-malarial flowers. Other agents of change follow . . . Drought ensues, and with it the people starve, and with that they recall the old ways . . . Pensive and lyrical; a closely observed story of cultures in collision."
– Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
"Complex and revelatory . . . Mukasonga complicates the blurry line between history and myth and critiques its relationship to colonialism. This speaks volumes to the power of storytelling."
"Kibogo is a rich novel about how real people and events are transformed into legends, and how those legends empower the marginalized."
--Eileen Gonzalez, Foreword Reviews
"Priests and village elders, small boys and wise women, saviors both earthly and heavenly, local chiefs and anthropologists populate this slim volume, drawing the reader into a world that is distant in both time and space, a world that is well worth visiting."
--Shara Kronmal, Chicago Review of Books
"A triumph . . . Biting and gloriously satirical, Mukasonga's novel shows how stories can wield a power that is greater than the sword, resisting ownership by any one person or power. It is a rich and hilarious work."
--Declan Fry, ABC News
"There may be a lot of tall tales in Kibogo, but there are others we know to be true: the exploitation of Rwanda by the white man during colonialism and beyond, and the battle between the white man’s religion and Rwandan culture and beliefs. It is these truths that remain on our minds long after the fire dies down and the storytelling is done."
--Susi Wyss, Washington Independent Review of Books
"Powerful and playful . . . Seeded throughout with luminous poetic moments . . . Mukasonga adds a new layer to the canvas containing her vanished culture. Amid destruction there’s confusion and manipulation, but there’s also the power of myth and human resilience. With this book, Mukasonga looks into a very dark night and imagines distant stars containing beautiful possibilities."
--David Varno, Words Without Borders
"The power of storytelling and the power of women is a constant amidst the stunning imagery and cutting anti-colonial critique of this collection, translated insightfully by Mark Polizotti. An immense achievement."
– Pierce Alquist, Book Riot
"Mukasonga is an exquisitely original and sensitive writer."
--Elaine Margolin, World Literature Today
"In an interview with Le Monde, Mukasonga referred to her books as 'paper tombs' for a Rwandan way of life that has been crushed by colonization and genocide. In Kibogo, that lost world comes to vivid, sardonic life."
--Constance Grady, Vox
"Scholastique Mukasonga’s stunning Kibogo . . . has at its center a story told among a Rwandan community and long hidden from their colonial Belgian occupiers: that of Kibogo, who sacrificed his life so that rain would return to his community, and Mukamwezi, his isolated, still-living widow. In the midst of famine, this central story becomes a lens, a guide, and a spiritual center, powered by the strength of community memory and imagination. Mukasonga’s writing is lyrical, powerful, and so rewarding; this story is unforgettable."
--Corinne Segal, Literary Hub, "Our Favorite Books of 2022"
"Over the course of the story [Mukasonga] transfers the manipulations and variations on Kibogo’s story from the hands of the “oldsters” gradually down to the “youngsters.” Her version of guarding this patrimony has nothing to do with maintaining purity or handing down from on high. For her country’s tales to stay alive and interesting it is essential to release the stories . . . and let them ascend. Freedom and variation are the very nature of a living history."
--Abby Walthausen, Asymptote
"This book is made up of four stories that come together to capture a belief system being threatened by the “progress” colonization brings . . . Mukasonga is an incredible author."
"The sense that reality can be transformed by belief or self-delusion forms a large part of Kibogo . . . Throughout a novel of shrewd and subtle observation, the character's reasoning is presented as always being in conflict with the impositions of missionaries or the representatives of the Rwandan state." — Declan O'Driscoll, The Irish Times