If you're trying to read around the world, some countries have abundant literature available in English (Nigeria, for example) and others, not so much. Since I'm late to this project, I'm benefiting from a minor but noticeable trend to make global literature more available in English. I'm seeing more books published from countries that haven't previously been available -- my TBR pile includes the first novels from Madagascar, Guinea Bissau, and other places. (I also got to read the first literature to come out of North Korea, but that's more a function of smuggling than of publishers taking notice.) And this is the first Burundian novel available in English. It was written in French, but also contains a good deal of Kirundi, which is left in and a translation added.
Nyamurgari, a mute teenage boy, is out working and tries to ask a girl where he can go to relieve himself. Frightened, the girl thinks he is trying to rape her, and screams for help. Nyamurgi wants to explain everything, but first he has to run away...and then a mob is after him.
As Nyamurgi flees, other people's perspectives break in. An old one-eyed woman tending her goats remembers the time before the drought, before the war that shattered her country, and she keeps an eye on Nyamurgi through the whole ordeal. We are shown parts of Nyamurgi's childhood, scenes of local life, and memories from Nyamurgi's uncle, an ex-soldier who is planning to save his nephew from the mob.
Although tribal names appear only once in the entire novel, memories of the war between the Hutus and the Tutsis keep erupting into the story from below. Everyone is living with unbearable memories they try to forget; everyone is afraid. Nyamurgi becomes a scapegoat for their fear, but the story also offers him a chance at escape. Maybe the people can escape their past, also?
The one-eyed old woman has respect for every thing living. From a young age she knew to respect the Twas, the third ethnic group after the Hutus and the Tutsis. It was even murmered that she might be one of them, by her father's bloodlines. But it does not matter! The essential thing is to live.This is an extremely short novel, really a novella, and yet it manages to fit in several perspectives with stories of their own. Because it switches perspective often (which is apparently a Burundian storytelling technique, I liked that) and is sometimes kind of opaque, I wouldn't classify it as an 'easy' read. It actually took me a few days to read it, when I thought I'd be able to zip through. It's a really interesting novel and, I think, a good choice if you're making a list of global or African literature to read.