Murambi, Book of Bones was published in 2000 and remains Boubacar Boris Diop's most well-known novel. The book is presented in four parts and is a fictionalized telling of the 1994 genocide perhaps most familiar to Americans as a result of the film Hotel Rwanda. Diop was born in Senegal which is, of course, on the other side of the African continent. Nevertheless, his assured hand reveals an author intimately familiar with the subject matter.
The first and third parts of Murambi, Book of Bones present the true life horrific story through the fractured perspectives of multiple characters who are touched by the genocide in varied ways. Part one and part three follow the story of a Rwandan educator, Cornelius, as he returns home to the country following the terrible years which witnessed whole death and devastation of his homeland.
The task that Diop sets for himself is monumental and difficult: trying to personalize, humanize and simply make real the astonishing reality of the Rwandan genocide which saw perhaps as many as a million people slaughtered over the course of a just a few months. This figure has been estimate to represent as much as close to three-fourths of the entire Tutsi population targeted for ethnic cleansing by the Hutu majority in charge of the government. Diop's success as a writer of political non-fiction is displayed in the ways in which he presents the full historical scope of this seemingly localized tribal dispute by introducing background material on the part played by French colonialist interests as well as allusions to Nazi atrocities.
Just as Schindler’s List succeeds in narrowing the incomprehensibility of the Nazi Holocaust by focusing on a representative group, so Muramb, Book of Bones succeed at making some small sense of the inconceivable by limiting the scope of the horror to that which can be more readily grasped.