Scholastique Mukasonga presents "Igifu," with Martha Cooley

September 23, 2020, 6:00 PM

Scholastique Mukasonga joins us to present her new story collection, "Igifu," in conversation with Martha Cooley. Co-sponsored by Adelphi University's MFA program. This event will be translated, and will take place on Zoom. Register here:

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The stories in Igifu summon phantom memories of Rwanda and radiate with the fierce ache of a survivor. From the National Book Award finalist who Zadie Smith says, "rescues a million souls from the collective noun genocide."

Scholastique Mukasonga's autobiographical stories rend a glorious Rwanda from the obliterating force of recent history, conjuring the noble cows of her home or the dew-swollen grass they graze on. In the title story, five-year-old Colomba tells of a merciless overlord, hunger or igifu, gnawing away at her belly. She searches for sap at the bud of a flower, scraps of sweet potato at the foot of her parent's bed, or a few grains of sorghum in the floor sweepings. Igifu becomes a dizzying hole in her stomach, a plunging abyss into which she falls. In a desperate act of preservation, Colomba's mother gathers enough sorghum to whip up a nourishing porridge, bringing Colomba back to life. This elixir courses through each story, a balm to soothe the pains of those so ferociously fighting for survival.

Her writing eclipses the great gaps of time and memory; in one scene she is a child sitting squat with a jug of sweet, frothy milk and in another she is an exiled teacher, writing down lists of her dead. As in all her work, Scholastique sits up with them, her witty and beaming beloved.

Born in Rwanda in 1956, Scholastique Mukasonga experienced from childhood the violence and humiliation of the ethnic conflicts that shook her country. In the aftermath of the brutal genocide of the Tutsi, Mukasonga learned that 37 of her family members had been massacred. Her first novel, Our Lady of the Nile, was adapted into a film by Atiq Rahimi in 2019. The New York Times named her memoir Cockroaches one of the “50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years.” In 2019, The Barefoot Woman was a finalist for the National Book Award for Translation.

Martha Cooley is the author of the national bestseller The ArchivistThirty­Three Swoons, and Guesswork: A Reckoning with LossThe Archivist was a New York Times Notable Book and a New and Noteworthy paperback. Cooley is currently a contributing editor at A Public Space. Her co­translations of Italian fiction and poetry include Antonio Tabucchi’s story collection Time Ages in a Hurry. A professor of English at Adelphi University, Cooley divides her time between Queens, New York, and Castiglione del Terziere, Italy.