Monday, March 21, 2011

Over a Thousand Hills I Walk with You by Hanna Jansen

c2006 Fiction; Grades 7+; 342 p.
ALA 2007 Best Books for Young Adults

Booklist Starred: Eight-year-old Jeanne was the only one of her family to survive the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Then a German family adopted her, and her adoptive mother now tells Jeanne's story in a compelling fictionalized biography that stays true to the traumatized child's bewildered viewpoint. Jeanne is witness to unspeakable horror, but the tragedy isn't exploited in her narrative. Nor is Jeanne sentimental about the world she loses: she feels jealous of her sister and distant from her father, and she takes her comfortable Tutsi Catholic home in Kibungo for granted. Readers unfamiliar with the history may be somewhat bewildered. Who are the Tutsis? Who are the Hutus? Why were almost a million people massacred? But that confusion is part of the story. An appended time line fills in some of the facts, but of course, there's no explanation. Woven into the child's story are brief, contemporary commentaries, set in italics, by the Jeanne's German mother, who speaks to her child about loss, fury, survivor guilt, and healing. Occasionally, the narrative is too detailed, especially about daily life before the massacre, but Crawford's translation from the German is always clear and eloquent. An elemental account of perpetrators, victims, and bystanders ("And the world looked on. Or looked away"), this book is an important addition to the Holocaust curriculum.

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