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Our Lady of the Nile
by Scholastique Mukasonga
Parents send their daughters to the Our Lady of the Nile boarding school to be moulded into respectable citizens, and to protect them from the dangers of the outside world. The young ladies – now in their final year – have learned, eaten and lived together, presided over by the colonial white nuns.
It is fifteen years prior to the 1994 Rwandan genocide and a quota permits only two Tutsi students for every twenty pupils. As Gloriosa, the school’s Hutu queen bee, mimics her parents’ prejudices, Veronica and Virginia, both Tutsis, are determined to find a place for themselves and their history. In the struggle for power and acceptance, the lycée is transformed into a microcosm of the country’s mounting racial tensions and violence.
Our Lady of the Nile captures the politics of an all-girl boarding school along with the politics of the country; Rwandan culture and customs, teenage secrets and pranks, Queen bees and wannabees, nuns and priests, friendship, curiosity, fear, deceit, prejudice and interminable, pouring rain.
Our Lady of the Nile is a landmark novel about a country divided and a society hurtling towards horror. In gorgeous and devastating prose, Mukasonga captures the dreams, ambitions and prejudices of young women growing up as their country falls apart.
There is so much brilliance in this book, my breath is taken away – Tsitsi Dangarembga