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Narrating Itsembabwoko

When Literature becomes Testimony of Genocide

Josias Semujanga

The tenacious belief in a disjunction of genocide and art has risen a persisting polemic in literary cricism. Narrating Itsembabwoko challenges this dichotomous thinking by assuming that a narrative about genocide is both a work and a testimony because the sense-making in work is a shared construction between writing, reading, and meaning to the point that artistic expression seems to be the irreplaceable nature of art to ensure the memory of events. The main assumption is that the aesthetic process brings together the forms, motifs, or themes already available in the vast field of literature and art, which are known to the reader, and integrates them in a particular text; however, the axiological process is an argumentative level, which governs and shapes the enunciated values in the work. This book shows how through their works writers seek forms – language or genre – that allow them to represent the horror of extermination, making the reader think about the moral range of narratives about genocide – fiction or testimony – using words that communicate the values of humanity, in opposition to the macabre deployment of absolute evil.


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2. The Oldest Orphan: The Child’s Voice Telling the Unthinkable


2. The Oldest Orphan: The Child’s Voice Telling the Unthinkable The immense mass of rape, colourful and exotic flower thrives in the room. That which can be named remained modest, despicably subject to reason, next to the unspeakable. Port Rawicz, Blood from the Sky These words by Piotr Rawicz on the literature of the Holocaust could have been those of Tierno Monénembo as he wrote his novel The Oldest Orphan.29 Monénembo’s novel refers to the genocide, but also the narrator constantly questions our ability to judge an event as monstrous as geno- cide. One critic can claim this novel is not quite a testimonial because this pessimism may give rise to many confusions or lead to cynicism. This is the paradox of any novel about the genocide: one truly wants it to be a novel in the sense that it is a work of imagination whose architectural processes are of an almost unlimited complexity depending on the writer’s inventiveness while still being a testimonial on the genocidal violence. Despite this critical trap, it is possible to consider this novel, and many others in this study, as one in which genocide, while remaining its refer- ence, does not prevent it from being a novel interrogating the narrative voice and the ethical position of the narrators. In the preface, Monénembo feels an obligation to clarify things: “While the reality of the Rwandan genocide cannot be denied, the situations and the characters of this novel are, for the most part,...

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