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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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9. Inyenzi or the Cockroaches: Trans-generational Memory


9. Inyenzi or the Cockroaches: Trans-generational Memory In Inyenzi or the Cockroaches (Inyenzi ou les cafards),48 Scholastique Mukasonga recounts her quest for information about the disappearance of her parents during the genocide. It is a book of remembrance; but one that serves to recall the loss of the whole country. Mukasonga and her kin, like thousands of other Tutsi, were banned under the Parmehutu regime. She has written a book about the killings to reclaim names from oblivion through the invocation of memory. Unlike the other books analyzed so far, Mukasonga’s is a story of trans-generational memory: she relates the humiliations and killings of members of one Tutsi family from 1959 to 1994. The author describes a few moments of happiness and hope, but all were before the genocide. It is the story of an investigation, but also a book about the profound need for people to mourn their dead relatives and, in order to do so, they need to know the exact circumstances of their deaths. A Thriller and Storytelling In terms of narrative, three literary genres emerge in this life story. Inyenzi has elements of the detective novel, as it centers on investigation to solve a crime committed as part of a mass murder; but it is also an inquiry into the meaning of memory and the story of a family during the genocide. And finally, it is a testimony, though Mukasonga believes that if the past could only live through the magic of writing, then she...

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