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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Over a Thousand Hills I Walk with You
by Hanna Jansen
Age Range: 14+
This certainly is an extraordinary and devastating book as the quote from the actress Emma Thompson says on the front cover, and one that will certainly not easily be forgotten.
At its heart is the Rwandan genocide of 1994, one of the world’s most recent and bloody periods in history. Based on the true story of eight-year-old Jeanne d’Arc Umubyeyi, known to her family and friends as Dédé, she is the only member of her family who survived the carnage. It begins with Dédé’s recollections of her childhood with her parents, who are both teachers, and her brother Jando and younger sister, Teya. Everyday events are recalled from imaginary games to scrapes and quarrels between the siblings. The story is retold with a clarity and honesty by her adoptive mother, Hanna Jansen, from Dédé’s perspective. It gives the reader an insight into her puzzlement and anxiety as she overhears adult conversations without actually understanding the deterioration of the political situation or that there is a difference between Hutu and Tutsi. When the violence does come it is all the more shocking. In only two days Dédé sees her mother and brother slaughtered along with many of her neighbours. In the ensuing chaos with everyone desperately seeking refuge, she also loses sight of her father and sister.
Harrowing in its restraint, Dédé’s story is a moving and inspiring one because against all the odds she survived and was able to build a new life in Germany with her adoptive family. Each chapter begins with a short address from the author to her daughter which helps to bring the story up to date. This is a novel that captures with great poignancy the terrible brutality and inevitable loss to those children who survived this appalling tragedy.