Friday, July 20, 2007

Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You

After complaining about it for weeks, I finally finished Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You by Hanna Jansen. Not only did I finish the book, but I gave it four stars on my LibraryThing page.

Now, I am not going to take back all of my previous complaints. This book was very difficult to get into. Weighing in at over 300 pages, Jansen would have done well to cut out the first 100 (and her editor should have advised her to do the same).

I understand why she included the first section. Those pages give background information on Jeanne, her family, and their life in Rwanda. Yet, I felt those first 100 pages did little to engage me as a reader.

I knew going in that Jeanne and her family would be affected by the Rwandan genocide and Jeanne would end up in Germany living with Jansen (who adopted her), so I was anxious to get to the heart of the story. I wanted to know what happened to Jeanne and how she, alone, could survive the tragedy.

For lack of a better term, Jeanne’s story is heartbreaking. The account is unflinching in its details of the genocide. Jeanne is only eight years old when her former neighbors, former “friends,” attack the Tutsis for being Tutsis. She watches loved ones slaughtered and must cope with survivor’s guilt. What affected me most was the knowledge that at some point Jeanne related all of these devastating details to Jansen.

Jansen begins each chapter from her own perspective, providing her reflections on living with Jeanne. I found these passages both interesting and distracting. She could (and maybe should) have written two separate books: Jeanne’s story and her own.

Jansen has clearly lived an interesting life. According to the author blurb, she has adopted 13 refugee children. She also makes mention of her guilt at being German and growing up in post-WWII Germany. I wonder if she adopts these children as some sort of retribution for her ancestors’ crimes. I would like to know her story—but in a different context.

Each time Jansen intrudes into the narrative, I am reminded that Jeanne’s experiences have been filtered through another, and I must question the book’s level of authenticity.

For example, Jansen goes into extreme details in her descriptions. Yet, Jeanne was only eight when the events occurred. Were her memories really so vivid? Also, could Jeanne’s grasp of German, a language new to her, have been so fluent as to express these details? Or has Jansen taken creative licenses? She does comment at one point about how excellent Jeanne’s memory is, but I still have to wonder.

Regardless of authenticity, I recommend this book. It is as strong and disquieting as Deogratias without the vulgarity, and the story is even more effective because of its biographical nature.


Wanna-Be Lit said...

Wow, now you've finished your pile of books for your paper? It's been very interesting hearing about the variety of books you found. Are you happy you picked the genocide topic? Do you know what you're going to write about?

Blogger said...

The topic has been very interesting. It reminds me how shallow my life can be--and I'm not sure I always welcome the reminder.

As for my paper, that's a good question. I might write about genocide from a child's perspective or how the focus in many of these books is on being a refugee versus the direct conflict or . . .

Wanna-Be Lit said...

Sounds good. When is the paper due?

Blogger said...

August 3, but let's hope I don't procrastinate that long.