Nothing tells the story of a national crisis like the individual voice. In his book, Murambi, the Book of Bones, Senegalese author, Prof. Boubacar Boris Diop, tells the tale of a war-torn Rwanda from peculiar eyes. The lines between facts and fiction are blurred to give an understanding that the records will not give, so that readers are, probably for the first time, able to contemplate the events from more than one angle.
On the eve of April 6, 1994, a Tutsi businessman, Michel Serumundo, returns home to his family, as unbeknownst to him, Rwanda is descending into chaos. Though Diop does not make Michel’s fate clear, it is unlikely that he survives the events that follow. On the other side of the imminent crisis, another family man, Faustin Gasana, contemplates the endeavors to come. He is a Hutu, and will be one of the many participants in the genocide. By describing the chilling contrast between Faustin’s relationship with his family, and his resolve to destroy so many other families, Diop draws the reader’s attention to the double-edged sword that is conflict, giving voice to both victim and villain.
The reader is taken on a journey through time to meet the central character of the story, Cornelius Uvimana, a Rwandan history teacher, who is exiled, but returns to his homeland four years after the genocide. Through Cornelius, Diop offers the readers a perspective of one on the outside looking in, and also, in a way, places himself in the story, as the character returned to Rwanda at around the same time Diop did.
The fates of Diop’s central characters are intricately entwined, sending a message of how everything comes full circle. Cornelius is welcomed by his childhood friends, Jessica and Stanley, both of whom have fought in their own ways to bring an end to the crisis. Though years of entropy have kept them apart, they remember all too well the man who “had kept them bound to each other” across those years, Siméon Habineza. Habineza is Murambi’s voice of reason. He sees the genocide for what it really is: a nonsensical slaughter – fueled by petty hatreds – that will scar Rwanda forever. He chooses no sides as he says: “I want to tell you this: you have suffered, but that doesn’t make you any better than those who made you suffer. They are people like you and me. Evil is within each one of us. I, Siméon Habineza, repeat, that you are not better than them.”
This statement strikes at the heart of all judgement, and implores readers to evaluate their own personal principles.
The book takes quite a few liberties with its portrayal of historical events. In blurring the lines between facts and fiction, Diop takes the events of record, merges them with his personal findings, and weaves a plot around relatable characters – the most relatable of which is, perhaps, Cornelius himself.
Readers are carried along on Cornelius’s journey, from his quest for closure, to the petrifying realization of his father’s role in the massacre of unknown thousands, including his mother and
At last, the journey ends, on the final page of the book, with a kind of peace. Murambi, the Book of Bones, is quite a read. siblings. They are carried along to the parishes, where the fallen, the tortured and abused lie frozen in death for the world to see. They are carried along to the place of Cornelius’s birth, to his coming to terms with the truth. They are carried along to his ultimate resolve to abandon the idea of making a play about the genocide, to chronicle the horrors as they had occurred, and “…call a monster by its name.”
By Ross Hart