Synopses & Reviews
Running the Rift
follows Jean Patrick Nkuba, a gifted Rwandan boy, from the day he knows that running will be his life to the moment he must run to save his life, a ten-year span in which his country is undone by the Hutu-Tutsi tensions. Born a Tutsi, he is thrust into a world where it's impossible to stay apolitical — where the man who used to sell you gifts for your family now spews hatred, where the girl who flirted with you in the lunchroom refuses to look at you, where your Hutu coach is secretly training the very soldiers who will hunt down your family. Yet in an environment increasingly restrictive for the Tutsi, he holds fast to his dream of becoming Rwanda's first Olympic medal contender in track, a feat he believes might deliver him and his people from this violence. When the killing begins, Jean Patrick is forced to flee, leaving behind the woman, the family, and the country he loves. Finding them again is the race of his life.
This is the third Bellwether Prize winner published by Algonquin. The Bellwether Prize is awarded biennially by Barbara Kingsolver for an unpublished novel that addresses issues of social justice and was previously awarded to The Girl Who Fell from the Sky and Mudbound.
"Set in the years leading up to the Rwanda genocide, Benaron's Bellweather Prize-winning debut novel follows Jean Patrick Nkuba, 'the jewel in Rwanda's crown,' a Tutsi boy with a gift for running. Jean Patrick dreams of representing Rwanda in the Olympics, but must contend with abject poverty, an ethnic quota system, and savage bullying. He runs Olympic-qualifying times, moving closer to his dreams as tensions rise between the governing Hutus and the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Force), a Tutsi-led rebel army. Jean Patrick gains the favor of the president, but falls in love with a journalism student participating in antigovernment activism, and finds himself entangled in a vast and calamitous game of political chess. 'Something unimaginable is coming,' warns his brother, a rebel soldier, and when the long-smoldering tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis erupt into a hellish conflagration, Jean Patrick must run away from the country he has spent his life running for. Benaron accomplishes the improbable feat of wringing genuine loveliness from unspeakable horror. She renders friendships and families with tenderness and sincerity, and lingers on the goodwill that binds a fractious community, even as those tethers grow taut and, finally, snap. She regards even the genocidaires with clear-eyed charity, allowing moral complexity to color the perversity of their deeds. It is a testament to Benaron's skill that a novel about genocide — about neighbors and friends savagely turning on one another — conveys so profoundly the joys of family, friendship, and community. This powerful novel recounts inhumanity on a scale scarcely imaginable, yet rebukes its nihilism, countering unforgivable violence with small mercies and unyielding hope." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"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." The Daily Beast
"First novelist Benaron, who has actively worked with refugee groups, won the 2010 Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction for this unflinching and beautifully crafted account of a people and their survival. In addition, she compellingly details the growth and rigorous training of a young athlete... Highly recommended; readers who loved Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner will appreciate." Library Journal, Starred Review
"The politics will be familiar to those who have followed Africa's crises (or seen Hotel Rwanda), but where Benaron shines is in her tender descriptions of Rwandan's natural beauty and in her creation of Jean Patrick, a hero whose noble innocence and genuine human warmth are impossible not to love." Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
"Awarded the prestigious Bellwether Prize for its treatment of compelling social issues, Benaron's first novel is a gripping, frequently distressing portrait of destruction and ultimate redemption... Benaron sheds a crystalline beacon on an alarming episode in global history, and her charismatic protagonist leaves an indelible impression." Booklist
About the Author
Naomi Benaron earned an MFA from Antioch University and an MS in earth sciences from Scripps Institute of Oceanography. She teaches at Pima Community College and online through the Afghan Women's Writing Project. An advocate for African refugees in her community, she has worked extensively with genocide survivor groups in Rwanda. She has won the G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction and the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition. She is also an Ironman triathlete.