The Huza Press Anthology 2015 Versus and other stories
How refreshing, stories from Rwanda not mentioning, or set in the time of, the genocide of 1994. Twenty-one years later, the country has come of age; at least its authors have. The genocide had a huge impact on the country and remains an important defining characteristic of the country in 2017. Finding pre-genocide information can be a real challenge as I discovered when trying to write an account of the territory’s involvement in World War 1. And most literature and art produced post-1994 is grounded in the genocide. Huza Press, a new publishing house in Rwanda started by Louise Umutoni, found eight new authors who had stories to tell of Rwanda as they experience it.
Although there’s no mention of the genocide, the theme of violence is strong throughout the stories. My experience of Rwanda has been a place where equality of all kinds is most noticeable, not just an exercise of lip-service. At least three stories, The fear of exit and guilt (Darla Rudakubana) I leave you today (Jean-Claude Muhire) and Girl (Charity Agasaro), deal with rape, the last crossing religious boundaries too. Of the three, I preferred Girl although had to remind myself of the story as the title and opening paragraph did not trigger a reminder. The difference between Girl and the other two is the level of violence; all three stories reflecting different kinds of abuse involving violation of women. A little red car at the Gusaba (Eva Gara) explores how tradition and modern values clash, but with open-minded wise elders change for the better can happen. A story I struggled with, because of it being an alternative reality (magical realism) which doesn’t sit well with an historian, is Impanga (Akaliza Keza Gara). Here, tradition and learning from the past are the theme – one with a twist. Strong women, for good or other, feature strongly in this anthology, the title story, Versus (Daniel Rafiki) being the most explicit example. Another challenging read, too abstract for this historian/realist was Nubwo Nisamye NasandayeI (Corneille Mbarubukeye). It’s a tale of a man, Austin, having a conversation with himself as he goes into decline. Departing from the obvious themes of violence and suppression, but remaining within the realm of exploratory fiction, is Nomansland (Dayo Ntwari). These are tales of violence against the individual and suppression of the self through drugs. These last two mentioned stories are monologues, Nomansland set as a diary or journal entries. They are also the only stories with men as the central figure.
Words I’d use to describe this anthology include: creative, diverse, challenging – of tradition, modern values and assumptions – and, insightful. I often describe Rwanda as being ‘too good to be true’ – not surprising as people continue to reconstruct the country post-1994 – but this anthology took me on a journey to another Rwanda, one a little harder, more real and human; less clinical. What it also did was show how similar people are, irrespective of background. Many of these stories could be set anywhere in Africa, Europe or America. All credit to these authors and Huza Press for breaking through the boundaries of how stories are supposed to be told. This is a bold, innovative and creative publication.