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REVIEW | A startling novel about being a girl at school in Rwanda

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Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga.
Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga.

BOOK: Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga (Jacana)

In this highly unusual and fast-moving novel (longlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses), Scholastique Mukasonga shows us how much is invested in our daughters. The setting is a school for the daughters of the elite in Rwanda. These young women are the pride and joy of their families, and include not only the majority Hutu but also a small quota of Tutsi girls. So much depends on how they grow up, who they marry, or just who they go to bed with. One or two of these daughters show a real streak of independence and leadership. 

Our Lady of the Nile is a Catholic establishment, situated high in the mountains close to the source of the Nile River. At the start of the school year the villagers gather to watch the learners arrive: "There were Mercedeses, Range Rovers and enormous military jeeps, their impatient drivers hooting and they tried to overtake taxis, pickups and minibuses..." And the reader is soon treated to the spectacle of the annual pilgrimage to the statue of Our Lady of the Nile (a Rwandan woman), installed above the spring that flows out of the mountain.

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