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.
[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.