Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Burundi: Baho, by Roland Rugero

This is I think the first book in my project that I had to buy, rather than borrowing from our local library. It is the first novel from Burundi ever to be translated into English. when it arrived in my mail box, I found a very slim package. The story itself finishes on page 90, and then we have a translator's note. So I expected the reading to go quickly, especially after being drawn in by the opening:

It's November, and the heavens are naked.
Ashamed, they try to tug a few clouds over to cover up under the merciless sun, which brings their nakedness unflinchingly to light.

I wasn't as gripped, however, by the rest of the story. Really, the narrative content amounts to enough for a short story. Nyamuragi, the mute, tries to ask a girl in sign language where he can relieve himself. She mistakes his gestures for a rape attempt. A crowd forms and almost lynches him. The story moves on from there - but not much. There are countless philosophical digressions, and proverbs in Kirundi, the local language (the book was actually written in French). Even though the translation of the proverbs is given, I found it hard to follow the relevance of many of them.

All this sounds a bit harsh. I did actually enjoy the book, and learnt quite a bit about the country from the story and the end note. Roland Rugero was born in Burundi in 1986 and works there as a journalist. He has held a residency at the Iowa International Writing Program. So clearly he has encountered western writing styles, and I am not sure how much the style of this book owes to the culture and story telling style of Burundi, and how much it is just his own personal style. But I would have preferred more complexity to the story at the heart of the book, and fewer digressions on the nature of language, time, proverbs and this that and the other.

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