Surviving the world


The cockroaches in the title of Scholastique Mukasonga’s autobiographical novel-slash-memoir are not insects, but people; the story of a Rwandan woman’s life begins long before the Hutus took machetes to their Tutsi neighbors in 1994. Cockroaches (Archipelago Books, $16), translated from the French by Jordan Stamp, begins when her family is forcibly expelled from their village and sent to a refugee camp. Eventually, there’s exile in neighboring Burundi, then a French education; she eventually settles in France and it is from a continent away that she watches the murder of 37 members of her family, including her mother. But the people who would crush cockroaches beneath their heels in this book are not merely the Tutsi who engaged in the Rwandan genocide, but also the international community, including U.N. aid workers who stood by and did nothing.