Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron
Winner of the 2010 Bellwether Prize for Fiction
Published by: Algonquin Books
Published on: January 3, 2012
Page Count: 384
Genre: Literary Fiction
Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook and Audiobook
Jean Patrick Nkuba was just a little boy when his father was killed in a car accident. His father was an educated man who believed that the Hutus and Tutsis could live together in Rwanda peacefully. As that little boy, Jean Patrick had only a vague notion of what it meant that he was a Tutsi. His biggest concern was training to outrun his older brother. Once he’d reached that goal, he set his eyes on the true prize, an Olympic gold medal. It took Jean Patrick a war and a lifetime to understand who he was and why it meant life or death in the country he so desperately wanted to represent in the Olympics.
From the first pages, I fell in love with Jean Patrick. He found his heart’s desire and he never let it go. Because he wanted to run, he put his whole soul into it. Because he wanted to run, he studied hard to be accepted to the schools that would allow him to compete that would that would otherwise not give a Tutsi a chance. The desire to run and do himself, his family, and his country proud gave him the focus he needed to survive the terror and death around him.
Jean Patrick could have only been the person that he was, but his story is not that of a Pollyanna character set in Africa. There were no shiny prisms to bring smiles to all of the grumpy people around town. Despite what Jean Patrick’s talent could have brought to Rwanda, there wasn’t an outpouring of communal support and good will when the chips were down. There wasn’t even a UN envoy there to keep him safe. There was nothing there for him but his own spirit and the war that was raging all around him without reason and without end.
Running the Rift is a novel about the Rwanda leading up to and including the genocide of 1994. There are so many characters I hated. There were so many characters I loved. There were so many naive people. There were so many cynical people. There was so much corruption. There was so much love. It took each of those people and that unique and volatile situation to nurture the boy who became the athlete who became the man. Naomi Benaron took these horrific events full of blood, terror, and despair and wrote nothing short of an amazing novel. It is a novel which steadfastly bore witness to human determination, loyalty, the love of family, and, against all odds, hope.
Go now and read this book.
For more discussion about Running the Rift, visit Jen’s blog throughout the day for the Book Club discussion. I can guarantee that the discussion will be well worth the read.