#394 ~ Running the Rift

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

My Reading Format: Review copy sent to me by the publisher for consideration; read and reviewed to coincide with Book Club, hosted by Jen from Devourer of Books and Nicole of Linus’s Blanket.

Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook and Audiobook

My Review

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.


  • At 2012.01.31 09:14, rhapsodyinbooks said:

    Nice review! I look forward to seeing the discussion!

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    • At 2012.01.31 12:37, Literate Housewife said:

      Thank you, Jill. I haven’t had a chance to go back to the discussion since my comment this morning. I’m looking forward to the discussion myself.

    • At 2012.01.31 10:47, Anita said:

      This is a beautiful review, given the horrendous back drop. I really don’t think I can read this one, it just breaks my heart.

      • At 2012.01.31 12:38, Literate Housewife said:

        Anita, I can definitely understand your hesitancy to read this book. I can only tell you that you will fall in love with Jean Patrick and you’ll go through it together. I’ve read books (Less Than Zero most recently) that I felt dragged me through emotional hell. This was not like this at all. I left this book feeling educated about what happened and feeling good about the future.

      • At 2012.01.31 11:05, Karen White said:

        I had been on the same page as Anita, but your recommendation may have swayed me. The timing will have to be right, though. Sometimes I just can’t face such stories.

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        • At 2012.01.31 12:40, Literate Housewife said:

          I really feel that if you give this book a chance you’ll find it worth the risk. It is a wonderful novel. Like I said to Anita, you don’t feel like you’ve needlessly been dragged through an emotional hell.

          • At 2012.01.31 13:12, Karen White said:

            That’s good to know. I was reading INSIDE THIS PLACE NOT OF IT – which is a compilation of true stories from women in or just out of prison and I had to take a break. Just made me too angry and sad. It’s hard when you know you should know about the ugliness in the world, but you can only take so much of it. Thus the escape to fiction…

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          • At 2012.01.31 12:39, Ti said:

            I love it when a book takes you through all of those emotions. For me, I have to FEEL something when I am reading a book whether it’s hate or love or something in between. Books that play it safe don’t typically sit well with me.

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            • At 2012.01.31 13:53, Andi (Estella's Revenge) said:

              Yep! Wanna read it. So many other books nipping at my heels though. Decisions, decisions!

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