Broken Memory : A Novel of Rwanda
by Combres, Elisabeth; Tanaka, Shelley (TRN)

After hearing her mother being murdered, a young girl must find the strength to survive on her own amidst the massacres of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

One million people were killed in the 1994 Rwanda genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutu. This short, spare novel, translated from the French and based on the author's interviews with survivors, tells of the massacre and then the trials and aftermath, all from the viewpoint of a child. Emma is barely five years old when she witnesses her mother's murder, and she flees with the crowds, navigating bodies "shot, hacked up, burned," until she finds shelter with a kind old Hutu peasant woman. Nine years later, Emma constantly replays the past. She sees perpetrators on trial and meets others haunted by what they saw and what they did, including a young boy, who betrayed the rebels under torture and is now "eaten up with guilt and madness." Even with the stark, clipped prose and the hopeful resolution, when Emma finds the strength to face the past and become a teacher, the gruesome detail is disturbing. Still, the child survivor's authentic experience makes this an excellent addition for the high-school Holocaust curriculum Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.

Emma is a Tutsi orphan living with the Hutu woman who took her in, at risk of death, during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Emma can remember nothing of her life before then, except for the sounds of her mother being brutally murdered and her mother's last words to her: "You must not die, Emma!" In a gentle narrative focusing on details of daily life, readers follow Emma finally home and to a restored memory. Though well-focused, the translated text drifts at an awkward pace and between perspectives and offers little beyond Emma's very specific psychological and emotional journey. An author's note that provides much-needed historical context for young readers appears at the back of the book; it would, perhaps, have been better placed before the beginning of the novel. Still, readers interested in the topic or engaged in a class setting will find this brief work approachable and evocative, and the dearth of materials on the Rwandan genocide for this age makes it stand out. (Fiction. 10-13) Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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