I've just finished reading my first book for the Reading Across Borders challenge! Anybody who's seen my "Reading Soon" list will know that I've been meaning to get to this one for several months, so thanks go to the challenge for finally getting it off the stack.
This is the slightly fictionalized story of Jeanne, small daughter of a privileged Tutsi family in Kibungo, Rwanda. She was 8 years old when her family was murdered by Hutu gangs (some of them their own neighbors) in the 1994 Rwandan genocide rampage (perhaps 1 million people killed, in just 100 days). Jeanne saw with her own eyes her mother and older brother being killed with machetes and clubs; she heard a first-hand account of her father and little sister's deaths.
Through luck and determination, Jeanne survived the massacre time, and eventually came to be adopted by a German family in Cologne. The novel was written by Jeanne's new mom, as a way of processing Jeanne's overwhelming grief and guilt, to honor her daughter's first family, and to highlight this under-reported time in our modern history. The title comes from a tale told by Jeanne's grandmother, of a wise king of Africa who persevered on a seemingly endless quest, and honored a difficult promise. His courage, determination and faith were rewarded by the King of Heaven.
At the end of reading, I am thoughtful, and I want to learn more. The writing is straightforward, neither lyrical nor flat -- we notice the story rather than the style. The translation is so good that it's not obviously translated. While not likely to fly off the shelves, this is a very engaging and important read, and I will definitely be recommending it.
For more information and reviews, see here, and the author's website. The Wikipedia article on the Rwandan genocide is here.