The stories in Igifu summon phantom memories of Rwanda and radiate with the fierce ache of a survivor. From the National Book Award finalist who Zadie Smith says, "rescues a million souls from the collective noun genocide."
Scholastique Mukasonga's autobiographical stories rend a glorious Rwanda from the obliterating force of recent history, conjuring the noble cows of her home or the dew-swollen grass they graze on. In the title story, five-year-old Colomba tells of a merciless overlord, hunger or igifu, gnawing away at her belly. She searches for sap at the bud of a flower, scraps of sweet potato at the foot of her parent's bed, or a few grains of sorghum in the floor sweepings. Igifu becomes a dizzying hole in her stomach, a plunging abyss into which she falls. In a desperate act of preservation, Colomba's mother gathers enough sorghum to whip up a nourishing porridge, bringing Colomba back to life. This elixir courses through each story, a balm to soothe the pains of those so ferociously fighting for survival.
Her writing eclipses the great gaps of time and memory; in one scene she is a child sitting squat with a jug of sweet, frothy milk and in another she is an exiled teacher, writing down lists of her dead. As in all her work, Scholastique sits up with them, her witty and beaming beloved.
About the Author
Born in Rwanda in 1956, Scholastique Mukasonga experienced from childhood the violence and humiliation of the ethnic conflicts that shook her country. In 1960, her family was displaced to the polluted and under-developed Bugesera district of Rwanda. Mukasonga was later forced to flee to Burundi. She settled in France in 1992, only two years before the brutal genocide of the Tutsi swept through Rwanda. In the aftermath, Mukasonga learned that 37 of her family members had been massacred. Her first novel, Our Lady of the Nile, won the 2014 French Voices Award, was shortlisted for the 2016 International Dublin Literary award, and in 2019 was adapted into a film by Atiq Rahimi. In 2017, her memoir Cockroaches was a finalist for the LA Times Charles Isherwood Prize. In 2019, The Barefoot Woman was a finalist for the National Book Award for Translation. About the translator: Jordan Stump has received the 2001 French-American Foundation's Translation Prize, and in 2006, was named Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He has translated the work of Marie NDaiye, Eric Chevillard, Marie Redonnet, Patrick Modiano, Honoré de Balzac, and Jules Verne, among others. He is a professor of French literature at the University of Nebraska.
"Haunted though they are by the memory of the unspeakable atrocities visited on her family and her people, these stories by Scholastique Mukasonga breathe upon a vanished world and bring it to life in all its sparkling multifariousness." — JM Coetzee
"Mukasonga carefully attends to how individuals’ attempts to negotiate unspeakable tragedy can lead to sad, odd, and even grimly funny situations . . . Igifu is full of deeply human moments. Taken as a whole, it’s an impressive and affecting work of art." -- Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
"Reminiscent at times of Iris Origo, Mukasonga writes with world-weary matter-of-factness, her stories understated testimonials to the worst of times. Elegant and elegiac stories that speak to loss, redemption, and endless sorrow." -- Kirkus
"A collection of autobiographical stories set during the Rwandan genocide, Igifu will tear out your heart and piece it back together again. Dealing with themes of poverty, starvation, and death, the stories in Scholastique Mukasonga's new collection will haunt you long after you've finished reading." — Bustle
"Autobiographical elements continue to haunt [Scholastique Mukasonga's] exquisite collection, Igifu, through five wrenching stories...Providing welcome continuity, French professor Jordan Stump translates the book, making Igifu the third of Mukasonga's four English-language titles Stump has translated with graceful agility... Igifu seems to serve as a bridge among Mukasonga's oeuvre, moving from memoirs (debuting in 2006 and 2008 in France) to this short fiction, to her first novel, Our Lady of the Nile... Despite the undeniable terror, Mukasonga's storytelling proves illuminating and resilient." --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, in Shelf Awareness
"Scholastique Mukasonga's stories dart nimbly between fleeting fondness and blunt recrimination, mining recollections of a Rwanda fissured by an unconscionable and amoral scourge. In Igifu, we find the idyllic nestled alongside atrocity and tradition marred by dispossession. A dire warning and a captivating triumph." — Justin Walls, 2020 Best Translated Book Award fiction jury
"What Scholastique Mukasonga accomplishes with this collection is nothing short of alchemy. There is scalpel-sharp precision melded with regenerative soulfulness at play here. Mukasonga is a genius and her work should be savoured again and again." -- Diriye Osman, author of Fairytales For Lost Children
"These stories are intimate portraits of young people with no choice but to carry on. The heartbreaking realities of their plights are balanced by absorbing glimpses into Tutsi culture and the characters’ unquenchable senses of hope. Their resilience is inspiring, while their need to be resilient is a tragic reminder of the consequences of prejudice and unthinking hatred. Igifu is a poignant collection about the effects of trauma on tradition, community, and individuals." — Eileen Gonzalez, Foreword Reviews
“I will read anything and everything by Scholastique Mukasonga, who writes in French and is translated by Jordan Stump. Mukasonga’s writing is beautiful, lucid, and moving about the most chaotic and devastating experiences. Her work astounds me in a way that few writers do. I return again and again to the haunting opening of The Barefoot Woman, her memoir about her mother, Stefania, who was murdered in the Rwandan genocide. The memoir itself is how the narrator keeps a broken childhood promise to her mother, ‘my sentences weave a shroud for your missing body.’ In September, I look forward to reading Igifu, a story collection published by Archipelago.” -- Grace Talusan, author of The Body Papers, in Restless Books
"A profound love of family and the Tutsi tradition infuses, suffuses, and animates Mukasonga's stories of the Rwandan genocide, the slaughter of her people. To mention "love" in the same sentence with "genocide" may appear odd, even indecent, but Mukasonga's brilliant writing encompasses the two. In Igifu, a meditation on hunger, Mukasonga's account of starvation startles and devastates; her language is both corporeal and metaphysical. "The Glorious Cow" tells of her father and his cows, his care for his beloved herd; it is revelatory. Mukasonga lived through unspeakable terror and loss, which is part of Igifu. But I believe she wants readers to know her mother, father, kin, and friends, as they were, to remember not just their massacre, but their wonderful humanity. Keeping their memory alive, keeping it vital, Mukasonga lives. This is an unforgettable book, told by an inimitable writer." -- Lynne Tillman, author of Men and Apparitions and American Genius, A Comedy
"[Igifu] contains nothing less than the heaviness of memory — its oceanic vastness, its vitality to the health and recovery of a community, its weight on the individuals charged with keeping it. Though each story has its narrators, characters, and families, I came away feeling that the main storyteller was both one and many — a we, a collective. In isolation, the stories are glittering gems; together in their own collective, they shed smoothness, and each edge is felt." —Anna Weber, events manager, White Whale Bookstore, in BuzzFeed
Praise for The Barefoot Woman:
• "The Barefoot Woman powerfully continues the tradition of women's work it so lovingly recounts. In Mukasonga's village, the women were in charge of the fire...In her work - six searing books and counting - she has become the keeper of the flame." - Parul Sehgal, The New York Times • The Barefoot Woman is simultaneously a powerful work of witness and memorial, a loving act of reconstruction, and an unflinching reckoning with the Rwandan Civil War...An essential and powerful read. - Zadie Smith • "A profoundly affecting memoir of a mother lost to ethnic violence. . . A loving, urgent memorial to people now "deep in the jumble of some ossuary" who might otherwise be forgotten in time." - Kirkus Reviews, starred
• "In this elegant and lyrical memoir, Scholastique Mukasonga tells the story of her mother, Stefania, one of thirty-seven of Mukasonga's family members who was eventually killed in the Rwandan genocide. In these pages, Stefania lives as the heart of her exiled Tutsi community, a determined, funny, and graceful woman who keeps watch over the neighborhood on her termite mound, acts as a matchmaker and healer, and obsessively plots her children's escape. Mukasonga masterfully conveys how the joys of daily life can co-exist with horror and Jordan Stump's translation honors this outstanding storyteller and her remarkable personal history." - NBA Judge's Citation • "The memories of childhood, a lost home, a mother who sacrificed herself are the pounding heart of the book, and Mukasonga has produced a work that anyone who might read it will remember." -Eleni Theodoropoulos, Literary Hub, Best Translated Novels of the Decade • "Mukasonga is a master of subtle shifts in register - a skill inherited, perhaps, from the Rwandan traditions of intricate courtesy and assiduous privacy that Stefania maintained. She turns everything over restlessly: In her prose, poignant reminiscences sharpen into bitter ironies, or laments reveal flashes of comedy, determination, defiance." -- Julian Lucas, The New York Times • "The Barefoot Woman is a resonant revelation." -Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor