It was while we were weeding the sorghum field that Mama taught me most of her memories of the Rwanda that used to be. Alas! I’ve forgotten so many of the secrets Stefania told me, the secrets a mother tells only her daughter.
Scholastique and her sisters are informed by their mother Stefania that they must shroud her with pagne when she dies; it is their job and nobody else’s. But they were not to know her death would be so soon, and that no one would be there to fulfil Stefania’s wish. For of her Tutsi family, Scholastique is the only one to escape the Hutu massacre.
And so Mukasonga aims instead to weave her mother’s shroud with words, drawing on inherited traditions of storytelling, resulting in a loving and devastating tribute. She recounts her family’s exile and the subsequent efforts of her mother and others to maintain ritual and community on the dry border of Rwanda and Burundi, and she illuminates the concerns and strengths of her mother as she fights for her children’s safety.
From the joys of a shared sorghum beer to the hiding places built to protect family from the violence of neighbours, in spare, haunting prose Mukasonga paints a vivid, evocative portrait of a lost childhood, family and way of life. Deeply moving, this it once a fiercely loving memorial and a remarkable work of art.
‘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”.’ Zadie Smith
‘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.’ The New York Times
‘A daughter’s lyrical tribute, The Barefoot Woman is a resonant revelation.’ Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, author of Dust
‘The memories of childhood, a lost home, a mother who sacrificed herself are the pounding heart of the book, and Mukasonga has produced a work that anyone who might read it will remember.’ Literary Hub, Best Translated Novels of the Decade