The Oldest OrphanBy Tierno Monenembo
Tierno Monenembo was among the African authors invited to Rwanda after the 1994 Tutsi-Hutu massacre to "write genocide into memory." In his novel The Oldest Orphan, that is precisely what Monenembo does, to devastating effect. Powerful testimony to an unspeakable historical reality, this story is told by an adolescent on death row in a prison in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Dispassionately, almost cynically, the teenager Faustin tells his tale, alternating between his days in jail, his adventures wandering the countryside after his parents and most of the people of his village have been massacred, and his escapades as a cheerful hoodlum in the streets of Kigali. Only slowly does the full horror of his parents' death and his own experience return to Faustin. His realization strikes the reader with shattering force, for it carries in its wake the impossible but inescapable questions presented by such a murderous episode of history and such a crippling experience for a child, a people, and a nation.