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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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7. The Hill Moth: Eros and Thanatos


7. The Hill Moth: Eros and Thanatos The Hill Moth (La phalène des collines) is a novel about the myth of Eros and Thanatos as a metaphor of resilience. The book is therefore the narra- tive of a witness who realized that two opposing attitudes were presented to him in the face of extreme violence: either a kind of astonishment resulting in total silence, due to the incapacity of recounting an atrocious horror, or, on the contrary, a way to manifest the willingness to testify. This is the challenge that Koulsy Lamko has undertaken in fictionalizing some moments of the Tutsi genocide. As if the topic was not macabre enough, he chooses one of the most unimaginable and indescribable episodes: the collective rape of Tutsi women before they were put to death. Before the novel starts, the author presents a precise ethical posture on the proper use of the memory of the tragedy. Indeed, with the para- text, he already declares his faith in humanity despite the genocide: “I believe in life.” (7) Lamko tells the story of genocide to make an exem- plary memory of it that supports faith in humankind despite the barbarism. Chaos resulted from the forces of evil, which had eaten away at Rwanda since colonization. With people who are good, Lamko posits life is not only possible but also enjoyable. Long live the life, long live the love, says the narrator to his beloved on the dedication page: “To Valentine Rugwabiza Bucagu, the friend,...

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