Mukasonga’s attention to those granular and indigestible names offers an alternative to the more antiseptic studies of the genocide and leaves us with an intentionally troubling book ... The prose is grounded in facts and is free of description, so the horror that arises from these passages comes not from some creative use of language but rather from the events themselves. These alone are more than enough ... Though the book consists of unadorned prose, Mukasonga occasionally departs from this bare voice. With just a slight shift in register, her nostalgic scenes deploy a more lyrical language, which underscores her childhood’s schizophrenic world where brutal discrimination coexisted with pastoral family moments ... Though the genocide threatens to drown out all else, Mukasonga’s extraction of meaning and vitality from her memories’ smallest details gives nuance to even the most obvious horrors. That she doesn’t use this skill to soften the story but rather to cast so much in the genocide’s shadow leaves us with a cold comfort, but she accomplishes her goal and provides an unflinching testament to much of what the genocide almost obliterated—the customs and lives and people, both named and not.
It may surprise readers to learn that Mukasonga is not writing of the later, infamous Rwandan genocide of the 1990s but instead of the post-colonial power struggle that precipitated it; the ingredients were the same, with long-lingering resentment over the Tutsis’ relative privileges in a stratified society. Her point of view, however, is more personal and less synoptic ... A thoughtful, sobering firsthand account of the refugee experience, a story that speaks to readers far beyond the African highlands.
...a compendium of unspeakable crimes and horrifically inventive sadism, delivered in an even, unwavering tone. Mukasonga intended it to be a 'paper grave' for her dead; the last paragraph is just a list of their names: this one whose rice she had loved, another who thought himself so handsome, the one killed along with her 10 children.