Relationships, resistance and modern myths are the key issues tackled in the RadioBook Rwanda books.
There are three stories — Waiting for Words, The Sykes are Woke and The Thunder Hunter, by Rwandan authors Eric Mutsinzi, Annick La Reine Shimwa and Jimmy Tuyiringire respectively.
In 2018, the British Council commissioned three publishers—Huza Press (Rwanda), Kwani Trust (Kenya) and No Bindings (UK)—to publish three new stories in both print and audio.
This birthed RadioBook Rwanda, whose aim is to showcase Rwandan and East African creative voices.
In Waiting for Words, Mutsinzi explores pain, vulnerability, alignment and eventual reconciliation through the story of a long-married couple with a tumultuous relationship as they try to have a child.
Shimwa’s The Sykes are Woke is about conflict. The story is about the politics of an older generation resisting a young female leader who has to lead warriors to resolve a conflict, and how she came to be the respected leader of a highly skilled army.
The Thunder Hunter by Tuyiringire is about modernity and myths in history and tradition through Karemera, a forty-five-year old father, whose roots go back a hundred to two hundred years in Rwandan history.
Reading these short stories reminded me of Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, in which he wrote, “For I had reached a point in my life when I came to view words differently. A closer look at language could reveal the secret of life.” The words from this series of short stories produced by seemed to reveal and document living in modern day Rwanda.
The books each feature one writer and one visual artist, plus an accompanying podcast.
Mutsinzi and Nduta Kariuki are the writer and artist in Waiting for Words, with Tuyiringire and Souls partnering in The Thunder Hunter and Shimwa and Jess Atieno in The Sykes are Woke.
Interspersed throughout the stories are the artworks of visual artists Souls, Kariuki and Atieno, which create a striking paratext.
The realistic portraits by Kariuki and Souls’ street art is just as expressive on the page as it is on the walls of Kigali, and Atieno creates compelling images in her collaged compositions.
Every writer is currently in their twenties, but these stories connect across generations and are published in both English and Kinyarwanda.
In the accompanying podcasts, the stories are narrated by Natacha Muziramakenga (Waiting for Words), Hervé Kimenyi (The Thunder Hunter) and Malaika Uwamahoro (The Sykes are Woke).
The podcasts also feature interviews with the writers and artists, as well as with people who are exploring the stories’ themes.
The narrations bring the tales to life, using rainfall, people laughing, bottles being opened, songs played on the radio, and the silence of a sleeping house.
As a reader, the encounter with each story is significantly enhanced when switching between mediums; Mutsinzi’s neatly scored storytelling makes Waiting for Words a visual story and the podcast lends a cinematic quality to an episode in Keza and Gasana’s relationship.
Tuyiringire’s take on Rwanda’s folklore reflects on colonialism, traditions and science. The story examines whether traditional beliefs match up to science and modernity.
Shimwa’s epic has colonial backdrops and presents strong female characters as leaders and agents of the resistance.
RadioBook Rwanda’s inaugural publication showcases the kinds of stories young people across Rwanda are interested in telling, and through its aural and visual offerings it enables us to imagine other people’s lives through art and sound.
The Radiobook Rwanda pocketbook ensemble costs Rwf5,000 ($5.6). You can listen to the audiobooks and podcasts on SoundCloud or on the Radiobookrwanda website.