(Current fiction and quality fiction of the past.)
When Writer’s Digest calls Barbara Kingsolver one of the most important writers of the 20th century, folks tend to listen. In turn, when Kingsolver calls Naomi Benaron’s “Running the Rift” (Algonquin) culturally rich and completely engrossing, then it’s time to start reading. While you can place an advance order at the usual places, the scheduled publication date isn’t until January 2012.
The manuscript for “Running the Rift” was the 2010 winner of the Bellwether Prize for Fiction. “It engages the reader with complex political questions about ethnic animosity in Rwanda and so many other issues relevant to North American readers,” Kingsolver said. “For one, it conveys the impossibility of remaining neutral within a climate of broad moral compromise—even for purportedly apolitical institutions like the Olympics.”
Kingsolver founded and finances the Bellwether Prize and is, of course, widely known for her dozen books, including “The Poisonwood Bible,” which won the Exclusive Books Boeke Prize, awarded in South Africa, loosely modeled on the United Kingdom’s Man Booker Prize. “The Poisonwood Bible’ has been labeled an indictment of Western colonialism and post-colonialism, an expose of cultural arrogance and greed. The story deals with a rabid fundamentalist minister’s clumsy and ill-advised attempts to fit Africa to his fundamentalist beliefs, and his family’s attempts to fit their lives to Africa. The second part of the novel is about the way a family tragedy marks its survivors and the different ways events in Africa mark them as well.
In promoting “Running the Rift,” Algonquin asks readers to “imagine that a man who was once friendly suddenly spewed hatred. That a girl who flirted with you in the lunchroom refused to look at you; that your coach secretly trained soldiers who would hunt down your family. Jean Patrick Nkuba is a gifted Tutsi boy who dreams of becoming Rwanda’s first Olympic medal contender in track. When the killing begins, he is forced to flee, leaving behind the woman, the family, and the country he loves. Finding them again is the race of his life.
“Spanning ten years during which a small nation was undone by ethnic tension and Africa’s worst genocide in modern times, this novel explores the causes and effects of Rwanda’s great tragedy from Nkuba’s point of view. His struggles teach us that the power of love and the resilience of the human spirit can keep us going and ultimately lead to triumph.”
Naomi Benaron’s published works include a short-story collection, “Love Letters from a Fat Man” (BkMk Press, University of Missouri).
Examiner notes that “Running the Rift” was much talked about at Book Expo America this year, the publishing trade show. Publishers Weekly quoted a librarian from Illinois to the effect that the novel was one of his favorites. Most other folks will have to wait until January to see whether it lives up to the numerous endorsements.
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