This profoundly moving memoir is the remarkable and inspiring true story of Sandra Uwiringyimana, a girl from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who tells the tale of how she survived a massacre, immigrated to America, and overcame her trauma through art and activism.
Sandra and her family are part of the Banyamulenge tribe. Originally the tribe lived in Rwanda but migrated to the Congo. They are not considered citizens of any nation and they are persecuted in the Congo.
War was a constant backdrop in her life. Her family often had to flee because of an outbreak of fighting wherever they were living. It got worse when her oldest brother was kidnapped along with 200 other boys and taken to be used as a child solider. Her father dedicated himself to rescuing her brother.
Sandra was 10 when fighting forced them to flee the Congo and cross the border into Burundi.
They were in a refugee camp in Gatumba on August 13, 2004 when armed men singing Christian praise songs came into the camp and started killing people. Tents were set on fire to force people into the open where they were shot. Most of the people in her tent including her aunt and cousins were killed. Her mother was holding her six year old sister when she was shot repeatedly at point blank range. Sandra had a gun held to her head but her captor let her go.
In the morning she found out that her mother had survived because she was tossed into a pile of corpses and managed to crawl away before they were burned. Her little sister was dead. Her brother was severely injured.
The family eventually moved to Rwanda and then was resettled in the United States. They thought their lives would be fine then. They didn’t realize the problems of being a refugee in the United States. They had lived a comfortable life in the Congo. Now they were living in poverty. People asked her what it was like to learn to wear shoes assuming she had never done that in Africa. Although she was fluent in three languages, people ridiculed her poor English. The family survived numerous setbacks in America. Sandra emerged as a spokesman for her tribe. She educated groups at the UN about the massacre and the hardships of being a refugee.
Then when she was in college, it all came crashing down on her. The feelings she and her family had supressed for so long were too much. She describes her problems with survivor’s guilt, depression, and PTSD. How do you get help for this when you are ashamed to speak of it especially to your family? Her mother had endured so much and seemed fine. Sandra was ashamed for not being as strong as her mother. Opening up a dialogue with her family about what happened was the hardest part of her mental health journey.
This book is written very simply. It is very matter of fact without a lot of embellishment. It is geared towards YA readers.
I hadn’t heard of the Banyamulenge or the Gatumba massacre. The man who claimed responsibility for it has since run for President of Burundi. No charges have ever been brought against anyone for the murder of 166 people.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
Mary B. Addison killed a baby.
She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.
Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.
There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?
This book…wow. Go get it and read it. Seriously.
I started out listening to this on audio. The narration by Bahni Turpin was incredible. She really brought the characters to life. I’m glad I had those voices in my head to help keep the characters straight. She made the adults in books seem even more vile than they were on the page. But about 1/3 of the way through I had to go to the library and get a hard copy. It was just too stressful to listen to the audiobook. There was such a sense of foreboding that I needed to know what happened at the end in order to be able to concentrate on what was going on in the middle.
I’m not even ashamed of grabbing the book and reading the last few chapters to settle my poor nerves.
Then I went back and read the rest of the book straight through from where I left off on the audio.
Mary’s life is absolutely tragic. She has been in jail since she was nine years old. Not juvenile detention. She was in adult prison. She couldn’t be with the general population so she was kept mostly in solitary confinement for years. Now she is on parole in a group home full of viscous teenage girls who hate her for the notoriety of her alleged crime.
No one is on Mary’s side in life. The story is told in part through transcripts from interviews and passages from books written about what a monster she is. There is always the racial subtext of a black girl killing a white baby. She’s had death threats from people who seem to think that the correct penalty for killing a child is killing yet another child.
Her mother is horrible. Oooh, I hated that woman. She needs to be the center of attention at all times. It isn’t surprising that Mary feels that it was her role in life to do whatever would be necessary to take care of her mother. It would have been nice if her mother felt the same way about her.
All the adults in her life judge her as a murderer and they seem to think it is worse than any other murder because she killed a baby. She is physically, mentally, and sexually abused in jail and/or the group home. No one cares except for her boyfriend, Ted.
Through all this you see her trying to better herself, especially now that she is pregnant. You root for her all through the book. She needs to learn to stand up for herself. That’s hard when you have never had any control of anything in your life.
This book will leave you emotionally wrung out over the way Mary was treated. I’m a huge fan of books that have just one more twist than you were expecting right at the end. I’ve seen a lot of reviews that absolutely hate that but it is one part of this book that made me think this is a masterpiece. I just had to sit a while and let everything sink in.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: