Broken Memory: A Novel of Rwanda, by Elisabeth Combres

August 17, 2010

Rating: 3.5/5

Broken Memory is a story of a girl who survives her mother’s murder during the Rwandan 1994 genocide of the Tutsi people. She has no dreams, no ambitions, and no interest in her future. She has only one goal in mind: to fulfill her mother’s last wish…

“You must live, Emma.”

When I sat down to read this book, I braced myself for the horrors of genocide.

What I found was simple and thought-provoking.

This is not an in-depth look at a young survivor’s life or a detailed account of the horrors of genocide; it is a series of events that lead the character to catharsis and leave the reader with…an impression. A broken image.

It’s up to the reader to pick up the pieces and consider what makes us human and what can turn us into monsters.

It is a tiny book with barely a pause for characterization, where Emma’s story is quickly narrated and we are carried down a stream of words watching images of the old woman who takes pity on Emma and keeps her despite the danger to her life; of the gossiping women in the village who don’t like the sight of her; of the boy whose spirit and body have been broken but who she cannot help but befriend; of the old man who has suffered more than she thought anyone could bear; of the trials of murderers; and her journey back to her mother’s home.

While I want to give this book a high rating, its lack of characterization, its rushed prose and anticlimactic epilogue prohibit me from doing so. However, despite its shortcomings, it addresses an important part of history, and its fast pace will likely be appealing to many reluctant readers.


Broken Memory won the Prix Nouvelle Revue Pédagogique and the Prix des lycéens allemands, where German high school students select their favorite book.

Broken Memory is part of the 2010 National Books for a Global Society’s list of outstanding K-12 multicultural literature.


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The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman and Ill. Dave Mckean

July 29, 2009

Rating: 4/5

Rating: 4/5

Award: Newbery Medal, 2009

Yet another Gaiman story that I liked well enough, but did not love. It is much better than Interworld, but there are some loose ends and scenes that fell flat towards the end of the story that keep it from being one of my favorites.

The Graveyard Book tells the story of a little boy who escapes being murdered by a mysterious man Jack. He is rescued and raised by a ghost couple in a nearby graveyard and has a guardian who is just as mysterious as Jack, perhaps more so. As Nobody “Bod” Owens grows up, the man Jack gets closer to finding him, still seeking his death at any cost.

The premise of a boy being raised in a graveyard to escape certain death is a good one and the book delves deeply into a magical world, where a boy comes to learn what it means to grow up, face your fears and step out into the world. The reader is taken on a journey with Bod from his early childhood to his teenage years as he learns about the past, the present, and future possibilities. We see the changes in him from a curious, adventurous child, to a young man with an inquisitive mind who wants to know more about the world.

For answers, he always turns to his guardian, Silas, who always succinctly tells him the truth, no matter how much it may hurt. Unfortunately, we never really get to know much about Silas, who is a fascinating character, which is part of the reason this book did not reach that “love” status from me.

Another aspect of the story is that two major events (one with his only living friend and one with his teacher) are rushed and Bod’s reactions are lacking realism. I won’t say much more since I do not want to spoil the story for you, but what happened should have had much more of an impact and played more of a part towards the very end of the book.

This is one of those books that you really have to pick up and read to find out if you would like it. Do I recommend the book? Absolutely, I think it is a worthwhile read! Do I recommended it to anyone who likes a good story? Yes, but reluctant readers will probably have a hard time sinking their teeth into this one, since the narrative demands the reader make inferences and pay careful attention to descriptions.

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