Tuesday, November 15, 2022

KIBOGO, latest treat from Scholastique Mukasonga AND A FINALIST for the National Book Award—Translated Literature!

(tr. Mark Polizzotti)
Archipelago Books
$12.99 ebook editions, available now


One of LitHub's 38 Favorite Books of 2022!

Rating: 6* of five It's my annual six-stars-of-five read!

The Publisher Says: 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?


My Review
: Come and sit down. Settle in for a winter afternoon's pleasure-reading of someone else's culture's stories. This novella-in-stories is, in under 150pp or about three hours'-worth of reading, going to tell you about Rwanda. Not the country that threw itself a genocide in 1994. The foreign colony undergoing coerced christianization, the colonizers whose need for men and food to fight a war on another continent was the only thing they saw, the people of Ruanda-Urundi whose bodies and souls were the raw material and the means of production but never just themselves. What happens when Nature decides to withhold her usual munificence and deny Mankind her fecundity is always very, very educational to the mass of the people.

What Kibogo does, then, is tell you the stories of the people. They're funny, they're poignant, they're sometimes befuddlingly different from our Global Northern expectations. But they are alive, they sing on the pages of this book, they make their world felt and heard and seen through Author Scholastique Mukasonga's careful, gentle, unsparingly honest eyes. Translator Mark Polizzotti comes in for a heap of praise as well. I could hear Author Scholastique speaking to me, and he is the reason I wasn't slugging through the book with La Petite Larousse ten centimeters from my elbow at all times.

Kibogo is a god, a divine creature whose rule over Ruanda's people is challenged by the Catholic priests. If you know anything about that religion, the focus of worship is what they start with changing...Jesus, not Kibogo...while syncretizing as much of the pre-christian myth structure and storytelling architecture as possible. In the event, who's the god isn't always clear...it comes down to the name one calls when one is in extremis...and that name can surprise even the caller.

The worst part of believing in a super-natural being, a creature above the natural world we must perforce inhabit, is that there is always, always a loose end to tuck in, a wrinkled page to smooth out and make readable. When a man works to make this his life's gift to the world, he neglects the woman whose gift the world is in: No birth happens without a man and a woman agreeing to make it happen. The issues for the Ruandan god's bride and the Catholic church's groom grow urgent. Both seek a spirit, see a world for what it has and can be made into; the world, meanwhile, just Is. How can this end except in tears? Watch and learn, people without belief.

Or just follow Author Scholastique as she, seeming as bemused as the rest of us, watches the borning Rwandan African attempts to put flesh on the hollow bones of ancestral skulls. It is here that I felt the sting of tears as, not free of sarcasm, Author Scholastique offers up the flesh of a bumbling, pompous Western world in sacrifice to the simple, bright, carnivorous land we all must share. The land is the only god worth worshiping because it is the only god we can touch and who responds to us, who feeds our families and accepts our worn-out remains for its eventual reuse, recycling what can not be reduced more than it is by the myriad eating mouths and excreting guts of Life.

This was a rare, perfect reading experience for me. It came exactly when I wanted and needed it. It answered some call I made, unknowing, as I looked for a reason for winter's cold and brilliance not to weigh me down. Thank you for it, Author Scholatique, Translator Polizzotti, and Archipelago Books via Edelweiss+. Gifts of this great value come when they're most needed.

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