Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday, January 14, 2012

 at 1:00 PM

Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron

Discussion Leader: Edna Ritzenberg


Sheltered within the rural confines of his impoverished Tutsi village, Jean Patrick dreams of one day running in the Olympics. But as he grows stronger and faster, so does the conflict between his tribe and the Hutus. Jean Patrick has an exploitable talent, however. His feet can carry the dreams and demands of his country to the outside world, so he is given privileges and concessions other Tutsis are not. Yet when the violence starts, not even those advantages can protect him, his family, and the woman he loves from the slaughter and devastation of a heinous civil war. Awarded the prestigious Bellwether Prize for its treatment of compelling social issues, Benaron’s first novel is a gripping, frequently distressing portrait of destruction and ultimate redemption. If there is an irony about it, it’s that its pace is often sluggish, which diminishes its emotional impact. Still, Benaron sheds a crystalline beacon on an alarming episode in global history, and her charismatic protagonist leaves an indelible impression. -- Haggas, Carol (Reviewed 10-15-2011) (Booklist, vol 108, number 4, p28)
Publishers Weekly:
/* Starred Review */ Set in the years leading up to the Rwanda genocide, Benaron’s Bellweather Prize–winning debut novel follows Jean Patrick Nkuba, “the jewel in Rwanda’s crown,” a Tutsi boy with a gift for running. Jean Patrick dreams of representing Rwanda in the Olympics, but must contend with abject poverty, an ethnic quota system, and savage bullying. He runs Olympic-qualifying times, moving closer to his dreams as tensions rise between the governing Hutus and the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Force), a Tutsi-led rebel army. Jean Patrick gains the favor of the president, but falls in love with a journalism student participating in antigovernment activism, and finds himself entangled in a vast and calamitous game of political chess. “Something unimaginable is coming,” warns his brother, a rebel soldier, and when the long-smoldering tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis erupt into a hellish conflagration, Jean Patrick must run away from the country he has spent his life running for. Benaron accomplishes the improbable feat of wringing genuine loveliness from unspeakable horror. She renders friendships and families with tenderness and sincerity, and lingers on the goodwill that binds a fractious community, even as those tethers grow taut and, finally, snap. She regards even the genocidaires with clear-eyed charity, allowing moral complexity to color the perversity of their deeds. It is a testament to Benaron’s skill that a novel about genocide—about neighbors and friends savagely turning on one another—conveys so profoundly the joys of family, friendship, and community. This powerful novel recounts inhumanity on a scale scarcely imaginable, yet rebukes its nihilism, countering unforgivable violence with small mercies and unyielding hope. (Jan. 17) --Staff (Reviewed September 26, 2011) (Publishers Weekly, vol 258, issue 39, p)
Library Journal:
/* Starred Review */ We first meet Jean Patrick Nkuba in 1984 Rwanda as he and his family mourn the death of Jean Patrick's father in a car accident. In the decade to come, we follow Jean Patrick through secondary school, where he becomes both a scholar and a gifted middle-distance runner. His dreams of achieving Olympic glory seem assured, but he is Tutsi, and Rwanda's Hutu-Tutsi tensions are steadily increasing. In the violent explosion of 1994 what happens to Jean Patrick and his family reflects the collective experience of Rwanda's 800,000-plus genocide victims. First novelist Benaron, who has actively worked with refugee groups, won the 2010 Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction for this unflinching and beautifully crafted account of a people and their survival. In addition, she compellingly details the growth and rigorous training of a young athlete. VERDICT Readers who do not shy away from depictions of violence will find this tale of social justice a memorable read, and those interested in coming-of-age stories set in wartime will want it as well. Highly recommended; readers who loved Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner will appreciate.— Jenn B. Stidham, Houston Community Coll.-Northeast, TX --Jenn B. Stidham (Reviewed August 1, 2011) (Library Journal, vol 136, issue 13, p81)
/* Starred Review */ Benaron's first novel, about a young Rwandan runner whose Olympic ambitions collide with his country's political unrest, is the recipient of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for "fiction that addresses issues of social justice." In the 1980s, Jean Patrick Nkuba and his older brother Roger are both talented athletes and scholars living an idyllic existence with their Tutsi parents at the school where their father teaches. Then Jean Patrick's father dies in a car crash just as tensions begin to build between the Tutsis and Hutus. Although the Tutsis are increasingly discriminated against, Jean Patrick's running talent sets him above the fray, especially after his Olympic potential is recognized in his early teens. Even Roger, who has joined the Tutsi Rebels, wants Jean Patrick to do whatever it takes to represent Rwanda in the Olympics. So Jean Patrick follows his Hutu Coach from high school to college. At first Coach arranges for Jean Patrick to have false Hutu identification papers. Then the government decides that allowing a Tutsi to complete internationally will bolster its human-rights reputation so Jean Patrick is made the Tutsi exception and treated like a beloved celebrity. He even attends a reception with the president. Meanwhile he has fallen in love with Bea despite Coach's disapproval--Bea and her journalist father are Hutu dissidents against the repressive Hutu government--and made friends with a visiting professor from Boston. As the conflict intensifies, Jean Patrick must make increasingly difficult choices, a key one being whether to trust Coach. The escalating violence of Hutus against Tutsis becomes a national mania that ultimately controls Jean Patrick's personal destiny. The politics will be familiar to those who have followed Africa's crises (or seen Hotel Rwanda), but where Benaron shines is in her tender descriptions of Rwandan's natural beauty and in her creation of Jean Patrick, a hero whose noble innocence and genuine human warmth are impossible not to love.(Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2011)