Translated from by

Published: Available on 9/15/2020



    ebook (ePub)

    ebook (pdf)


Want a discount? Become a member by purchasing Memberships!

Book Description

Scholastique Mukasonga’s autobiographical stories rend a glorious Rwanda from the obliterating force of recent history, conjuring the noble cows of her home or the dew-swollen grass they graze on. In the title story, five-year-old Colomba tells of a merciless overlord, hunger or igifu, gnawing away at her belly. She searches for sap at the bud of a flower, scraps of sweet potato at the foot of her parent’s bed, or a few grains of sorghum in the floor sweepings. Igifu becomes a dizzying hole in her stomach, a plunging abyss into which she falls. In a desperate act of preservation, Colomba’s mother gathers enough sorghum to whip up a nourishing porridge, bringing Colomba back to life. This elixir courses through each story, a balm to soothe the pains of those so ferociously fighting for survival.

Haunted though they are by the memory of the unspeakable atrocities visited on her family and her people, these stories by Scholastique Mukasonga breathe upon a vanished world and bring it to life in all its sparkling multifariousness.
J.M. Coetzee

Mukasonga’s gift lies in illustrating the day-to-day reality of a persecuted minority, the calculations that must be made and the humiliations endured . . . The matter-of-fact psychological probity of Mukasonga’s work is akin to the piercing memoirs of Annie Ernaux and the early novels of Edna O’Brien. She also shares their gift for writing about childhood.
Andrew Martin, Harper's

Igifu depicts the lives of Rwanda’s Tutsis from their exile in the 1960s to the genocide of the ’90s . . . [Scholastique Mukasonga] mediates the personal through fable to convey the sense of a collective past . . . Mukasonga’s language, in Stump’s translation from the French, is at once intimate and impersonal . . . The devastation in Mukasonga’s stories is only amplified by the short story form.
Jane Hu, The New York Times

A profound love of family and the Tutsi tradition infuses, suffuses, and animates Mukasonga's stories of the Rwandan genocide, the slaughter of her people. To mention "love" in the same sentence with "genocide" may appear odd, even indecent, but Mukasonga's brilliant writing encompasses the two. In "Igifu," a meditation on hunger, Mukasonga's account of starvation startles and devastates; her language is both corporeal and metaphysical. "The Glorious Cow" tells of a father and his cows, his care for his beloved herd; it is revelatory. Mukasonga lived through unspeakable terror and loss, which is part of Igifu. But I believe she wants readers to know her mother, father, kin, and friends, as they were, to remember not just their massacre, but their wonderful humanity. Keeping their memory alive, keeping it vital, Mukasonga lives. This is an unforgettable book, told by an inimitable writer.
Lynne Tillman, Men and Apparitions; American Genius, A Comedy

There is a rare numinous quality in Mukasonga’s work. The writer tasks herself with recuperating both anguish and ardor: anguish for what has been expunged, ardor for what can never be eradicated. The task must at times seem impossible... Yet the writer’s imagination becomes the heart’s means of revival, and in these bracingly beautiful stories, the prose gleams not with nostalgia, false pieties, or forced hope, but with the deepest respect and love.
Martha Cooley, Los Angeles Review of Books

A collection of autobiographical stories set during the Rwandan genocide, Igifu will tear out your heart and piece it back together again. Dealing with themes of poverty, starvation, and death, the stories in Scholastique Mukasonga's new collection will haunt you long after you've finished reading.
Bustle, "The Books Everyone Will Be Talking About All Summer Long"

Mukasonga carefully attends to how individuals’ attempts to negotiate unspeakable tragedy can lead to sad, odd, and even grimly funny situations . . . Igifu is full of deeply human moments. Taken as a whole, it’s an impressive and affecting work of art.
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

Reminiscent at times of Iris Origo, Mukasonga writes with world-weary matter-of-factness, her stories understated testimonials to the worst of times. Elegant and elegiac stories that speak to loss, redemption, and endless sorrow.
Kirkus Reviews

You see and feel everything in Mukasonga’s prose, translated by the renowned Jordan Stump, the scents and sounds of the cows and the solemn, spiritual moment of milking, the warmth of the sun, and the inconceivable pain, but also resolve, of a survivor.
Pierce Alquist, Book Riot, "13 Great Fall 2020 Books In Translation"

What Scholastique Mukasonga accomplishes with this collection is nothing short of alchemy. There is scalpel-sharp precision melded with regenerative soulfulness at play here. Mukasonga is a genius and her work should be savoured again and again.
Diriye Osman, author of Fairytales For Lost Children

Every season in which we get a book by Scholastique Mukasonga, translated by Jordan Stump, is a blessed season indeed. Though the book is physically small, it contains nothing less than the heaviness of memory — its oceanic vastness, its vitality to the health and recovery of a community, its weight on the individuals charged with keeping it. Though each story has its narrators, characters, and families, I came away feeling that the main storyteller was both one and many — a we, a collective. In isolation, the stories are glittering gems; together in their own collective, they shed smoothness, and each edge is felt. When I read "Grief" in The New Yorker, I was moved; when I read it a few days later at the end of Igifu, I was verklempt.
Buzzfeed News, "38 Great Books To Read This Fall, Recommended By Our Favorite Indie Booksellers"

Mukasonga’s superbly crafted stories leave the reader with a deep sense of desolation, thanks, in part, to her deft use of metaphor...Yet these stories are not devoid of joy and hope. The fortitude and perseverance of the Tutsi women; the bonds that unite neighbors, who put aside grudges and pull together in times of need; the beautiful milking rituals of the Tutsi farmers; the willingness of one woman to raise another’s child, should it be necessary — these particulars leave the reader with profound appreciation for the resilience and generosity of the Tutsi people. With Igifu, Scholastique Mukasonga has written a wonderful and important book, one that will expose most Western readers to unexpected new worlds.
Bárbara Mujica, Washington Independent Review of Books

Igifu is a study in collective grief and trauma that finds its strengths through the observations of ritual . . . Scholastique Mukasonga is interested in the inability of the human mind to conceptualize genocide, overwhelming in its evilness and reach. As her characters find themselves unable to articulate what has transpired, her stories verbalize the horror of genocide in ways drastically abstract, beautifully and imaginatively rendered.
Sarah McEachern, Full Stop

In a brief and beautiful collection of 5 short stories infused with elements of memoir, French Rwandan writer Mukasonga reflects Rwandan history of the last century. The stories deal with refugee displacement, hunger, and disruption to a traditional way of life . . . You might assume these stories are grim, but instead they are radiant, and the writing is graceful, lovely and life-affirming.
Chicago Public Library Staff, 2020 Best of the Best Books Selection

Mukasonga’s autobiographical short stories about Rwanda plunge the depths of memory and grief, but also love and hope.
Kyle Francis Williams, The Chicago Review of Books

Mukasonga has been writing autobiographical stories about her upbringing and Rwanda’s genocide for years, but “Igifu” may be her brightest, most eye-opening work yet.
Hillary Kelly, The Los Angeles Times

From the first [story in Igifu], I was ushered to dazzling new outlooks on the world, some tinged with wit, some with terror . . . This is an author who goes well beyond recollection; she’s alert to the signals of other people’s nerve-endings.
John Domini, Brooklyn Rail

Igifu is about displacement and resettlement, about the relationship with foreign lands and outside forces – Hutu, Belgian, Burundian – whose imposition generates devastating and unequal consequences . . . Unsettling as it may be, the choir of voices in the book confers a sense of reality to the stories, which read like chronicles of real people, infusing the reading experience with a sense of responsibility and urgency that the reader cannot ignore.
Anna Giulia Novero, Wasafiri


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.
Julian Lucas, The New York Times

Radiant with love...The Barefoot Woman powerfully continues the tradition of women’s work it so lovingly recounts. In Mukasonga’s village, the women were in charge of the fire. They stoked it, kept it going all night, every night. In her work — six searing books and counting — she has become the keeper of the flame.
Parul Sehgal, The New York Times

The Barefoot Woman is simultaneously a powerful work of witness and memorial, a loving act of reconstruction, and an unflinching reckoning with the Rwandan Civil War. In sentences of great beauty and restraint, Mukasonga rescues a million souls from the collective noun 'genocide,' returning them to us as individual human beings, who lived, laughed, meddled in each other's affairs, worked, decorated their houses, raised children, told stories. An essential and powerful read.
Zadie Smith

I loved the sharpness of Mukasonga’s eye, the graceful construction of her chapters, the way a story wrapped up in unimaginable loss is told with a little smile, and the way in which that smile sometimes abruptly disappears.

Jordan Stump, Asymptote

Like Primo Levi’s accounts of the Holocaust or Nadezhda Mandelstam’s memoir of persecution in Stalinist Russia, Mukasonga faces the very worse people have done without flinching, without bitterness or hatred, but with a steadfast refusal to forget. The stories function like a resurrection, bringing back not only the dead but the people’s relationships, cultural traditions, humour and beauty.
Marisa Grizenko, Plain Pleasures

In an interview with Deborah Treisman of The New Yorker, Mukasonga discusses displacement, loss, and language.

See our reading group guide for discussion questions!

Mukasonga talks with Julian Lucas at The White Review about the historical and cultural contexts of her writing and the overlap between autobiography and fiction in her work.