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The Oldest Orphan [Paperback]

Tierno Monenembo , Adele King , Monique Fleury Nagem
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

March 1 2004
Tierno Monénembo 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 Monénembo 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.

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Review

“A devastatingly moving novel about one of the greatest tragedies of the twentieth century. That it is an African tragedy and that the author is African makes it all the more important for American readers in these perilous times when national borders grow increasingly fragile. Translated with eloquent grace by Monique Fleury Nagem, this powerful book deserves the widest possible audience.”—Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
(Robert Olen Butler)

The Oldest Orphan effectively describes a country completely undone, trying to cope with the unthinkable and unspeakable. Faustin gets by, more or less, but the advents catch up with him, and in the powerful last scenes they are fully dredged up again, what actually happened to him and his family in those days revealed, well evoked by Monénembo in all its horrible absurdity. . . . Adele King’s brief introduction covers all the basic information readers should be equipped with.”—The Complete Review
(The Complete Review)

“While it is a pleasure to read of a passion as strong as Faustin’s, my favorite note of affirmation in this work comes in a curious passage in which Faustin comments on his love of singing. ‘Singing is done with our whole God-given body; talking is done with the mouth only. It’s better this way—to sing and not to talk.’”—Brad Goins, Laganiappe Magazine
(Brad Goins Laganiappe Magazine)

“Monénembo weaves his story with the ease of a master craftsman. He deftly takes the reader circuitously from beginning to end.”—Connease Warren, Mosaic Literary Magazine
(Connease Wearren Mosaic Literary Magazine)

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read! June 14 2004
By bear
Format:Paperback
This book is beautiful! From such sadness Mr. Monenembo has wrought exquisite humanity. I could not put it down. It is Africa viewed by an African instead of Europeans or Americans. In a compelling fashion Mr. Monenembo focuses not on the politics but on the people.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Huck Finn in Rwanda Jan. 14 2005
By Karen K. Lewis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Sometimes, constructing an elaborate fiction-as Tierno Monénembo does here-reveals an emotional truth deeper than would be possible with any journalistic account. Mr. Monénembo has lived in exile from his native Guinea since 1969, studying in Senegal, Abidjan, and Lyon before settling in Normandy. The Oldest Orphan is his seventh novel, and second of his books to be translated to English.

The narrative is fragmented between flashback and a blur of present tense, where the protagonist Faustin's memory wanders between age 10 and age15. At age 15, Faustin exists in prison, awaiting execution, accused of killing the boy who allegedly raped his sister. Faustin faces heroic challenges with humor, resourcefulness, and remnants of an innocence that has been brutally truncated by genocidal mania. The facts are difficult, and blurred, against the backdrop of social & political upheaval.

This is an important novella concerning the Rwanda genocide of 1994, written by one of the strongest literary voices available in translation from the African continent.
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