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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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8. Fire under the Cassock: The Question of Collective Guilt


8. Fire under the Cassock: The Question of Collective Guilt Inspired by a true story, Fire under the Cassock (Le feu sous la soutane) by Benjamin Sehene tells the story of Father Stanislas, a Hutu with a Tutsi mother who officiates in the Sainte Famille Parish in Kigali. The novel begins in the final day of the genocide while the cannons roar in the neigh- boring hills, announcing the approach of the Rwandan Patriotic Front; the Interahamwe militiamen continue their massacres of the Tutsi. Father Stanislas narrates in the first person the psychological pain and moral decline that led him to rape Tutsi women and then to kill his parishion- ers. He describes the daily mechanics that led him to consent to and then participate in the extermination of Tutsi. After the genocide, he flees to France, and later he will be accused of rape and crimes against humanity. A raping Priest Written in the form of a first person diary, the novel is divided into three parts. Part One opens with a flashback. Stanislas tells his story from the end, while he lies in prison in France, recounting his ambiguous path as a Catholic priest during the genocide: When I begin to seek the crucial moment that has led me to this cell, I sink in the maze of doubt. What could I have done – what should I have done? – After the death of the President and the resumption of the civil war? Quickly, I saw my church fill...

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