In this finalist for the 2019 National Book Award, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide pays tribute to her mother, narrating the story of her life with the fierce and loving Tutsi woman who did everything to protect her children from the violence encroaching upon them in pre-genocide Rwanda.
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.
... [a] tender paean to motherhood and community ... This bloodshed haunts and propels the narrative ... an extraordinary tribute to 'Mother Courage', as well as a timely reminder of war’s devastation.