Scholastique Mukasonga’s Cockroaches is a compelling chronicle of the author’s childhood in the years leading up to the 1994 Rwandan genocide. In a spare and penetrating tone, Mukasonga brings to life the scenes of her family’s forced displacement from Rwanda to neighboring Burundi. With a view made lucid through time and pain, Mukasonga erodes the distance between her present and her past, resurrecting and paying homage to her family members who were massacred in the genocide. She captures not only the violence and pain of her childhood as a refugee in Burundi, and the torment of finding herself far from her family and Rwanda as the genocide erupted, but also, in movingly simple language, the beauty present in quiet, daily moments with her loved ones. As lyrical as it is tragic, Cockroaches is Mukasonga’s tribute to her family’s suffering and to the lingering grip of the dead on the living.
This publication was made possible by a grant from the Nimick Forbesway Foundation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Harrowing... Mukasonga’s powerful and poignant book plants itself in that terrible absence, its stone etched with a difficult, necessary grief.
— Publisher's Weekly
A thoughtful, sobering firsthand account of the refugee experience, a story that speaks to readers far beyond the African highlands.
— Kirkus Reviews
Cockroaches is vital precisely because it reconfigures not only a common understanding of the genocide in Rwanda, but privileged assumptions about peace more generally ... When she left Rwanda, Mukasonga understood that her role was “to live in the name of others.” You get the sense that every sentence in Cockroaches bears this weight and is, therefore, a remarkable achievement.
— Lara Pawson, Times Literary Supplement
Following her award-winning debut novel, Our Lady of the Nile, which revealed in quietly devastating detail the tensions between Hutus and Tutsis in 1970s Rwanda through the microcosm of a Catholic girls’ boarding school, Mukasonga returns with an expanded autobiographical novel chronicling the endemic violence in her homeland. The book opens in the late 1950s, when the first Hutu-led violence against the Tutsis occurred, then moves inexorably through the years of internal exile, deprivation, and escalating violence to 1994 and “the genocide, the long-awaited horror.” The Hutus called Tutsis Inyenzi, or cockroaches, and they were to be stamped out brutally. Mukasonga, who was not in Rwanda at the time and lost almost her entire family, chillingly observes, “I was not with my family when they were being hacked up with machetes.” The entire novel is related with brave, sobering, steely-eyed calm.
— Library Journal
At our best we bear witness to the horrors of the human condition with solemnity and respect that we might learn from our collective histories and move forward together with some hope for a shared future. That Mukasonga’s lyricism allows us to endure those troubling spaces with grace and wit is not just deeply moving, it’s a blessing.
— M. Bartley Seigel, Words Without Borders
Notably, this English translation of Cockroaches challenges Western discourses concerning the Rwandan genocide that stress the narrative of the West’s failure to intervene as opposed to the narrative experiences of actual Rwandans impacted by the regime. Mukasonga’s intimately personal (yet concurrently collective) account of the build-up to and aftermath of the genocide thus not only reclaims the voices of those lost in 1994, but also resists the voices of those continuing to silence them today.
— Alexander Dawson, Warscapes
A kind of memoir also, a real homage to the dead that Mukasonga loved and that she stands vigil over now. This book gives them the dignified burial that they never received.
— Marie-Alix Saint-Paul, Africa Vivre
Mukasonga recounts the details of her childhood, adolescence, and early womanhood in precise, compelling prose that emphasizes the suffering of others both in her family and among her fellow Tutsi neighbors. It is a harrowing account in which the writer focuses on telltale facts and relates instructive personal experiences, all the while soberly revealing her own emotions...Mukasonga is a vital witness to life in Rwanda during the three decades that preceded the atrocities. What went on during those years is much less known, and she memorably tells that gruesome story.
— John Taylor, The Arts Fuse
Cockroaches is a physically small book with a small, soft voice that whispers to us of the thousands of unnamed, unwritten memoirs, reaffirming their existence, refusing to forget: it is both witness literature and, likely against Mukasonga’s own intentions, a survival epic...For Mukasonga, staying alive meant the burden of bearing witness to the event and the duty to disclose it...But what if survival is not the equivalent to redemption? [...] Mukasonga’s story also teaches us that survival itself can be just at the margins of tolerable existence: “Sometimes I hear that growl in France, in the street I don’t dare turn around, I walk faster, isn’t it that same roar, forever following me?” We are left listening for bodies slithering through tall grasses in the night.
— M. René Bradshaw, Asymptote
[Mukasonga] describes with humility the daily inferno that was her family's existence during the years before the massacre in the spring of '94...Sholastique Mukasonga cannot obtain reparations for the horrors she endured, but here she accomplishes a feat of memory and a story of surprising sobriety.
— Urobepi, Coups de Coeurs Littéraires (Et Plus)
Heavy, unflinchingly raw, inspiring.
— Book Stalker Blog
We are told that Rwanda is now a peaceful country; the ethnic massacres of the 1990s are all behind them now and all is forgotten and forgiven(?). But even before that ethnic cleansing, before the term was even used, there were post-colonial massacres that singled out Tutsis. Told by one who survived and thrived by some miracle, Scholastique was a 12 year old girl who had come accept that she would always be a peasant with “ … a filthy scarf tied around my head, I would hoe the earth. I would do that all my life, assuming they let me live.” But, at her father’s urging, she took the national exam and succeeded in getting one of the few places in the secondary school in Kigali allotted to her group. In the midst of “the pious, racist ghetto that was Rwanda, one little island had been spared, a place where you could find a normal life by our work alone.” But it didn’t last; she and a brother were selected to escape to a neighboring country while all the rest of her extended family, some 27 members, were slaughtered along with thousands of others. Now a social worker in France, she revisits her homeland and hopes she has carried out her parent’s wishes—to survive and to remember. Her memories are bitter and I challenge you to read this without tears and without wondering what is to become of humanity.
— Darwin Ellis, Books on the Common
Written with a restraint and simplicity that touches directly...on the heart of life, on the eye of the cyclone. There is a force to these words, something that delves into the most profound depths of things. Scholastique Mukasonga's voice is as if broken away from the night, taut but pure, clear, vibrant, with a tranquil force...Read it.
— Farenheit 451
Jordan Stump’s translation of the original French allows Mukasonga’s sentences to ring like completed, present instants. The sentences are sparse, distinct, like clipped phrases, their reality is the act that they contain, and they bleed into one another to give the impression of continuous inevitability.
— Asymptote Journal
Indispensable reading for anyone who cares about the endurance of the human spirit and who hopes for a better world. The conclusion is a stunning illustration of how precious little this courageous author has salvaged from tragedy.
— Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Los Angeles Review of Books
[Scholastique Mukasonga is] ...a fabulous writer... Her talented translator, Jordan Stump, needs to get started on translating her other works.
— Charles R. Larson, Counter PunchWhat I love so much about Mukasonga’s writing is how she manages to interweave the political and the personal so skillfully and to such powerful effect. Everything I’ve read by her so far has been gorgeously written and incredibly moving. I hope we’ll have more books by her in English soon.
— Susan Bernofsky, TRANSLATIONiSTA