Around the hearth, old Rwandan folk tales dispel the gloom of exile. Yet loss is lodged in every reminiscence. Grief recalls Mukasonga to the hard present ... 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.
The Barefoot Woman by Scholastique Mukasonga... is a loving tribute to a strong mother and a striking work of memoir ... Extraordinarily, this story is at times horrifying in its content and at other times playful; lyric in its style and tender in its handling of the central character. While the reader's knowledge of the genocide to come hangs over the narrative, the everyday events often retain a quotidian feeling ... As a literary work, this establishes a rare balance. Jordan Stump's translation from the French beautifully conveys this sense of both tragedy and day-to-day joy ... This is an adoring, gorgeously rendered memorial to a mother and testimony to a people.
[The Barefoot Woman is] a great performance where language has the stage, where words are revered and carefully chosen ... The [book's] balance is kept through careful consideration of all the options of the displaced peoples living in the Tipoli homes. Words are presented, announced, and revealed as the author seems to whisper them to us through the lines ... This memoir opens the door to a simpler way of life that continues to resist displacement and genocide by raising pillars made out of homes, gardens, and the others in the community who make the fascinating rhythm of resistance absorb fear through creativity and hope.
Translated from the French by Jordan Stump, the book immediately establishes the beginnings of a formidable story about survival in an inhospitable new land ... But about halfway through the book, the focus shifts ... The shift, somewhat anthropological, leaves the reader in a bit of lurch, wondering how Stefania and her family lived out the rest of their lives ... Ever clear and laudable, however, is Mukasonga’s consistent portrayal of her mother as a guardian of the family and of Rwandan lore and customs in the deadly wake of expulsion and exile. No doubt, this small book—an unevenly woven 'shroud'—bears an unimaginably heavy weight.
The narrative has a gentle, peaceful cadence despite the persistent underlying menace of ethnic violence. The reader is able to catch glimpses of what life must have been like before violence became an everyday reality; glimpses of the sort of peaceful life Stefania and the other villagers aspired to ... Mukasonga offers a stirring tribute to her mother, and to her mother's difficult task of trying to offer her children a safe and comforting childhood, and all above a hopeful future amid the oppression and repeated rounds of violence ... The Barefoot Woman is an important complement to Mukasonga's body of work on Rwanda, and shows how literature has the power not just to hold violence and brutality to account, but also to give tangible shape to those whom history would otherwise deprive of identity. Where there is identity, where there is humanity, there is hope.
As charming and funny as these stories often are, they are tinged with a great sadness ... There are numerous twists... You are enjoying a well-written anecdote, laughing out loud in one sentence, only to be quieted by the next sentence. This speaks to Mukasonga’s prowess as a storyteller ... one of the great lessons of The Barefoot Woman is that we must never forget what happened in Rwanda. Mukasonga is right to not let us.
...a beautifully-composed and evocative survivor’s eulogy ... Mukasonga shows us close up how her mother brings to this project her intelligence and ingenuity as well as the traditions of her culture ... The Barefoot Woman is lyrical but also informative and ethnographic, as much a memoir of a mother as it is of her way of life ... In this memoir, Mukasonga has done far more than remembering and recognizing the human beings she grew up with; she has immortalized them.
A profoundly affecting memoir of a mother lost to ethnic violence ... Mukasonga’s account of village life can be charming, as when she writes of the importance of growing sorghum for, among other reasons, making a mild beer that served as a social bond. But then it can become harrowing on the same page ... A loving, urgent memorial to people now 'deep in the jumble of some ossuary' who might otherwise be forgotten in time.