Scholastique Mukasonga (Our Lady of the Nile) has done something extraordinary with her autobiographical work Cockroaches. In straightforward prose over a mere 165 pages, in a binding approximately the size of a 5x7 family photograph, she harnesses four decades of devastating imagery and emotion emanating from the genocide of the Tutsi people in Rwanda. From the heartrending dedication to the last page, Mukasonga holds the reader's aghast but rapt attention through the hardships endured and resilience shown by her family and their fellow refugees.

Mukasonga was three when the pogroms began in 1959 and her family was expelled from their village, exiled to an unpopulated savanna overrun with tsetse flies and wild animals. Hutus relegated hundreds of thousands of Tutsis there, rendering them Inyenzi--cockroaches, something to be stomped on and eradicated.

Despite the daily regime of terror, the Tutsis sustained their proud culture as a means of bearing witness, believing they would die in their hellish exile. They worked, grew food and, perhaps most importantly, they read. Education was Mukasonga's way out and, thanks to books, she "sensed that the world was far bigger than we could imagine.... Sometimes I dreamed of an impossible thing: having a book all to myself."

Mukasonga eventually graduated and moved to France, but kept abreast of the continued evisceration of her people, returning in 2004 to witness what remained of her village. Cockroaches is a haunting love letter to the lost, beautifully written and imbued with controlled emotion, a story to which we should all bear witness. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

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