By David Varno
Before we launch the November issue, we'd like to highlight Abdourahman Waberi's wonderful piece of reportage on Rwanda, fifteen years after the genocide, "Rawanda: The Flame of Hope."
Waberi was born in Djibouti and also writes fiction and poetry. He was a juror for the Lettre Ulysses Prize for International Reporting (first recipient: Anna Politkovskaya), which led WWB editor Susan Harris to solicit him for the October issue, subtitled Foreign Correspondents: International Reporting.
Here is a note from the translators, who brought Waberi's original piece, Le Rwanda: la flamme de l'espérance, to us from the French.
In a recent interview, Waberi was asked about the importance of the figure of Walter Benjamin in his new novel Passage des larmes / Passage of Tears (cf. In Ben’s Footsteps,” WWB Spring 2008). He replied that his desire to write about Benjamin probably stemmed from his trips to Rwanda (!) in 1998 and 1999 (see his Moisson de crânes / Harvest of Skulls, 2009) and was nourished by years of reading, particularly of writers linked to the Holocaust in one way or another. So his reporting on Rwanda is not only an epilogue to one of his earlier books, but a natural outgrowth of his ever-widening interest in genocide. Of course it also stems from a deep concern for the fate of his continent and his desire to revise Western clichés about Africa, a desire satirically expressed in his previous novel, In the United States of Africa. And Waberi is a writer always on the go: he not only writes about exiles and modern nomads (two of his books have “nomad” in their very title), he is one. Travel writing of a certain kind, reporting what he sees and feels, deepening his impressions by reading, fits easily into the life of a nomadic novelist.
His style here is journalistic but highly personal, and, as often in his novels, sometimes poetic. We tried to render these varying tonalities in our translation.
-- David and Nicole Ball.
Part of Waberi's success in his critique of Africa lays in his ability to work both sides of the Other, which he accomplishes in this piece with an allusion to Proust:
Houses, roads and avenues are as fleeting, alas, as the years. This is the thought borrowed from Proust that's in my head, as I come back to Kigali last July. I don't recognize anything, almost nothing, in the city I walked through for two months in 1998 and 1999. It's true that memories sometimes have their own recipe for reinventing the reality that created them, but this city could not be more different from the one I visited nine years ago. Completely transformed, and also thriving. Malls everywhere, roads, homes right out of an American suburb.
Read the entire piece here.
Published Oct 30, 2009 Copyright 2009 David Varno