All My Children, Scattered by Beata Umubyeyi Mairesse

All My Children, Scattered by Beata Umubyeyi Mairesse

A new release coming soon! (August 2022) I got to read an advanced reader copy from the publisher and I cannot wait for this book to come out!

All My Children, Scattered traces the movements of three generations of a Franco-Rwandan family, as they each, in their own painful ways, unravel the complex emotions and tensions inflicted on them by Rwanda’s colonial history and, more recently, the Rwandan Genocide. Immaculata, the mother, struggles to find a place for herself and her children in a world still ruled by colonial culture. She finds herself equally trapped and freed by her own internalized ideas about race and color. She passes on these questions of identity to her daughter, Blanche, a mixed race, half white, half black woman, who finds herself also struggling with what it means to be Rwandan within and outside of Rwanda, in Europe. Blanche is a survivor of the genocide and turmoil of the 1990s; she wrangles with her luck, her fate, her role in it as a Rwandan expatriate. Stokely is Blanche’s son, another generation removed from the colonial encounter and one generation removed from the Genocide, but he is no less subject to this history.

There are other characters woven into their story: Bosco, Immaculata’s other child, her son, who also survives the genocide by fighting through it. He was a soldier, a human being caught up in the gritty reality of the genocide. Then there is Blanche’s husband, a West Indian man, facing similar questions of postcolonial identity. He understands and yet, also, cannot understand Blanche’s Rwandan identity.

What I love most about All My Children, Scattered is its historicity and the native point of view it privileges, centers, revolves around. Mairesse immerses the reader in the Rwandan experience of history. While colonial history is a foundational premise of the novel, it does not fall into that trap of making this about white men and white experience; this is not a novel of the colonizer, this is about Rwandans, the people and their experience.

I deeply appreciated that Mairesse did not delve into the details of colonial events, what happened in what year; the machinations of state politics was a buzz (a loud one at times) in the background. What was most visible was the effect of politics on the ordinary citizen, the family, individuals. This is not a historical fiction that reads like a history lesson – thankfully! — no, this is a novel that focuses on the emotional trauma, the unseen generation damage.

Mairesse’s prose delivers. The language is beautiful and evocative. The voice of each character is clear, unmistakable. Each chapter is narrated by a different character so Mairesse treats the reader to a view of Rwandan history from multiple points. The reader feels the connections across time, the intangible tensions from one generation to the next.

This is a book to read and re-read.

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