Rwanda – Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron

Reading is a great way to learn about or spark interest in history and places that may be unfamiliar. Movies can do that, too! And I’ll never forget the horrifying movie, Hotel Rwanda, which told the story of Rwanda’s civil unrest in the early 1990s and the subsequent genocide of nearly a million Tutsi Rwandans.

I was fairly young still in the early 90s, so when Hotel Rwanda came out a decade later, it was my first real exposure to these events. It seemed unfathomable to naive little me that such a thing could have happened in “modern-day society”. It still horrifies me today.

Which made me a little hesitant to pick up Naomi Benaron’s book, Running the Rift, that takes place during this tumultuous period in Rwanda’s history. With COVID and the current state of the world, I was wasn’t sure that I wanted to plunge into a book that I feared would be depressing and upsetting.

And though Running the Rift does have moments that are disturbing, it is ultimately a story of hope and perseverance. It follows the journey of Jean Patrick, a young Tutsi teenager who is navigating the civil unrest of Rwanda, all while training to run at the Olympics. It’s more of a coming-of-age story, than a historical account of Rwanda, so if you’re looking for a deep-dive into history, this may leave you wanting more.

For teenagers, learning who you are and forming your identity is challenging as is, but for Jean Patrick, defining his identity meant the difference between life or death. And Benaron’s writing kept me engaged and invested in knowing what Jean Patrick’s future would hold (this is her debut novel, too, by the way).

I loved the scenes in Running the Rift where Benaron discussed Rwandan food and the natural beauty of the country. Jean Patrick also makes friends with Americans living in Rwanda, and their exchanges about the cultural differences between their countries often made me smile. Overall, despite the tragic events that ultimately unfold within the pages of the book, I thoroughly enjoyed Running the Rift. And I hope you will, too!

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For more information: Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron

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