“Cattle Praise Song”
by Scholastique Mukasonga
translated from the French by Melanie Mauthner
from the November 12, 2018 issue of The New Yorker
I first heard of Scholastique Mukasonga a few years ago when Archipelago Books published Melanie Mauthier’s translation of Mukasonga’s debut novel from 2012, Our Lady of the Nile. I thought that was a very good book, and I really liked her 2006 memoir Cockroaches, which came out in English in 2016. Another memoir (prior to her debut novel, Mukasonga published three memoirs; her story, though she left Rwanda prior to the genocide, is tragic), The Barefoot Woman, originally published in 2008, is coming out in English next month. Since her debut, Mukasonga has published a collection of short stories (I’m assuming, but don’t yet know, that “Cattle Praise Song” is from it) and another novel. I’m glad to see she’ll get some attention this week in the pages of The New Yorker. While her sentence-by-sentence style is not always appealing, her work is powerful.
Here is how “Cattle Praise Song” begins:
I was seven years old and puffed up with pride; I was my father’s little cattle herder. Every morning, when my father left the big hut, I woke with a start, reproaching myself bitterly for sleeping so soundly when I should have been up before him, like my older brothers, to tend to the cows in the kraal. I was convinced that my father never slept, that he was always on the alert. He would never let himself be caught out by cattle rustlers. Stealing cows was a serious sport in Rwanda. People feared these bandits and also admired them. They were very cunning. They had medicines that would put all the inhabitants of a kraal to sleep. The rustlers would make an opening in the fence, and the cows, under their spell, would follow them through it without a moo. The thieves left no trace: they were powerful sorcerers. They knew the secret paths that led through the swamps to Burundi, where they sold the stolen cows and bought new ones. In Rwanda, some herds grew bigger quickly, but you couldn’t ask questions—it was too dangerous.
I hope you all feel welcome to share your thoughts below and discuss the story!