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Novel set in RWANDA and FRANCE

13th April 2023

All Your Children, Scattered by Beata Umubyeyi Mairesse, novel set in Rwanda and France.

Translated by Alison Anderson

Novel set in RWANDA and FRANCE

WINNER OF THE PRIX ÉTHIOPHILE, THE PRIX DES RACINES ET DES MOTS, AND THE PRIX DES CINQ CONTINENTS DE LA FRANCOPHONIE 

Blanche is a typical adolescent, trying to make sense of the world. She’s a mixed-race child who doesn’t quite fit in and she has never known her father, so she has additional issues to confront. Then civil war in Rwanda breaks out, pitching Hutu against Tutsi. Blanche is evacuated from her home to join her father in France, a place she has never visited. All Your Children, Scattered tells her story, but also that of Immaculata, her mother, who has been confronted by loss and tragedy but somehow survived. I wanted to add “to tell the tale” but that is the paradox of this novel: that it revolves around silence and the reasons that people do not, in fact, tell their tales. In Immaculata’s case, trauma has resulted in her becoming mute and communicating only in writing.

The title “All Your Children, Scattered” is taken from the Roman Catholic catechism; just one of many things I learned while reading this enigmatic, melancholy but ultimately optimistic book. You’d imagine a book that features the Rwandan genocide as part of its story to be very depressing, but this is not the case. Rather than focusing on the atrocities, the author looks at the effects that differences can have as a spectrum, from everyday family rifts to prejudices and slights due to skin colour, to racial divides due to heritage. All this is brightened by the evocative descriptions of Rwanda and the strong female characters who narrate most of the story.

The book deals with themes of race, colonialism, tradition, education and contrasts the Rwanda that is transitioning from a colonial past with the centuries of ‘civilisation’ in Europe. I loved that one of the characters reminds another, “We built the pyramids, though!”

The author, Beata Umubyeyi Mairesse, is also a poet, and it shows! I loved her playful use of language, which has been skilfully interpreted by her translator, Alison Anderson. Beata is already a prize-winning author and I note that it has just been announced (March 2023) that All Your Children, Scattered is a finalist for the French-American Foundation’s translation prize.

For me, the book is almost perfect – I felt it lost its way a little toward the end, but the conclusion is ultimately satisfying. There are no birds on the cover but there should be; you’ll see why!

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