The Oldest Orphan


The Oldest Orphan

Tierno Monénembo
Translated by Monique Fleury Nagem
With an introduction by Adele King

96 pages


March 2004


$15.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Tierno Monénembo was among the African authors invited to Rwanda after the 1994 Tutsi-Hutu massacre to “write genocide into memory.” In his novel The Oldest Orphan, that is precisely what Monénembo does, to devastating effect. Powerful testimony to an unspeakable historical reality, this story is told by an adolescent on death row in a prison in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Dispassionately, almost cynically, the teenager Faustin tells his tale, alternating between his days in jail, his adventures wandering the countryside after his parents and most of the people of his village have been massacred, and his escapades as a cheerful hoodlum in the streets of Kigali. Only slowly does the full horror of his parents’ death and his own experience return to Faustin. His realization strikes the reader with shattering force, for it carries in its wake the impossible but inescapable questions presented by such a murderous episode of history and such a crippling experience for a child, a people, and a nation.

Author Bio


“A devastatingly moving novel about one of the greatest tragedies of the twentieth century. That it is an African tragedy and that the author is African makes it all the more important for American readers in these perilous times when national borders grow increasingly fragile. Translated with eloquent grace by Monique Fleury Nagem, this powerful book deserves the widest possible audience.”—Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

The Oldest Orphan effectively describes a country completely undone, trying to cope with the unthinkable and unspeakable. Faustin gets by, more or less, but the advents catch up with him, and in the powerful last scenes they are fully dredged up again, what actually happened to him and his family in those days revealed, well evoked by Monénembo in all its horrible absurdity. . . . Adele King’s brief introduction covers all the basic information readers should be equipped with.”—The Complete Review

“While it is a pleasure to read of a passion as strong as Faustin’s, my favorite note of affirmation in this work comes in a curious passage in which Faustin comments on his love of singing. ‘Singing is done with our whole God-given body; talking is done with the mouth only. It’s better this way—to sing and not to talk.’”—Brad Goins, Laganiappe Magazine

“Monénembo weaves his story with the ease of a master craftsman. He deftly takes the reader circuitously from beginning to end.”—Connease Warren, Mosaic Literary Magazine

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