The Tears of a Man Flow Inward: Growing Up in the Civil War in Burundi

Random. Mar. 2022. 224p. ISBN 9780812997644. $27. MEMOIR
Irankunda (author of the Pushcart Prize–winning essay “Playing at Violence”) writes about a childhood punctuated by the Burundian Civil War, which spanned 12 years. His affection for Burundi, “the land of milk and honey,” manifests in the stories of his elders, his descriptions of the horned Watusi cows (“the cattle of kings”), and his reverence for the bashingantahe, the sages who traditionally administer justice in Burundi. Irankunda’s parents were Tutsi, and when the Hutu president was assassinated in 1993 the Tutsis were blamed, leading to an ethnic war. Irankunda notes that the long reach of European interference in Africa (which in Burundi was carried out by Germany and Belgium) was largely responsible for the fractures in his country: Burundian traditions were disrespected or outlawed; ethnicities were factionalized. The atrocities he and his schoolmates witnessed are beyond comprehension. Irankunda eventually came to the U.S., sponsored by author Tracy Kidder and his wife, and graduated from Deerfield Academy and then Williams College. He writes that he sought ways to put his experience of war into context, for both himself and his generation of Burundians who have carried the trauma.
VERDICT Irankunda joins other writers from the African continent (see Rwandan Clemantine Wamariya’s The Girl Who Smiled Beads and Liberian Wayétu Moore’s The Dragons, the Giant, the Women) in giving eloquent and stirring witness to a childhood shattered by war and the legacies of colonialism.
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