Fri January 4, 2013
"Running the Rift: A Novel"
On this edition of ST, we speak by phone with Naomi Benaron about her debut novel, "Running the Rift," which appeared in soft-cover back in October, and which was awarded the Bellwether Prize in 2010 (which is given biennially to an unpublished novel that confronts social issues). "Running the Rift" is set in Rwanda; it begins in 1994 and runs, as a narrative, through 1998. Thus it takes place in a country that knew horrific genocide in a devastatingly hellish conflict that pitted neighbor against neighbor. At its core, Benaron's novel is the coming-of-age story of a young Tutsi, Jean Patrick Nkuba, who is an avid and accomplished runner with dreams of competing in the upcoming Olympics in Atlanta. Out of a childhood defined by loss and rampant tragedy --- in the midst of an upbringing overshadowed by deadly Hutu-Tutsi tensions --- Jean Patrick must eventually transition from training for a medal to trying to save himself and his family. As a reviewer of this novel noted for The Daily Beast: "An auspicious debut.... Having worked extensively with genocide survivor groups in Rwanda, Benaron clearly acquired a very lucid sense of her characters' lives and of the horrors they endured. Her story tells, with compelling clarity, of Rwandan Tutsi youth, Jean Patrick Nkuba --- who dreams of becoming Rwanda's first Olympic medalist. It's a dream he must postpone for more than a decade as the internecine savagery, Hutu vs. Tutsi, slaughters millions and derails the lives of countless others. While it would be counterintuitive to pronounce this a winning, feel-good story, there is something to be said for hope restored. And Naomi Benaron's characters say it well."