Tuesday, July 7, 2015

#JeSuisRwandais? Maybe not exactly.

Thanks for the shoutouts, Drifty and Constant Weader!

Clemantine Wamariya. Photo by Andrew White.
Shorter David Brooks, "The Courage of Small Things", New York Times, July 7 2015:
We're all just like refugees from the Rwandan genocide. At least I am.
No, seriously. Verbatim,
...while the genocide was horrific, the constant mystery of life is how loved ones get along with one another. We work hard to cram our lives into legible narratives. But we live in the fog of reality. Whether you have survived a trauma or not, the psyche is still a dark forest of scars and tender spots.
Love that dark forest, where he's wandered before.

Subject today is the story of an actual refugee from the Rwandan genocide, Clemantine Wamariya, who escaped the horror as a little girl and wandered all over Central and East Africa with her big sister Claire and wound up going to Yale; presented in a remarkable new piece in the online magazine Matter ("Everything is Yours, Everything is Not Yours") by Wamariya and the writer Elizabeth Weil (who may have some personal connection with Brooks; both he and she have been involved in publicizing the [dubious] views of Dr. Leonard Sax on gender-based cognitive differences).

You should really read the piece, composed in a kind of emulation of W.G. Sebald, with radical dislocations in time and haunted photographs, and sentences like diamonds—they're that hard, and you can turn them over in your fingers to see flames inside. Brooks, abridging the story for his time-pressured readers, transforms them, methodically, into Cream of Wheat.

Wamariya, on being reunited with her parents live on Oprah:
Claire remained frozen. But I, in my newly-purchased TV clothes and blown-out hair, ran toward my family, arms outstretched. I hugged my brother. I hugged my father. I hugged my tiny little sister. I tried to hug my mother but my knees gave out — I guess I was a cartoon, too — and my mother had to pick me up.
Her parents, brother and sister had been found in Africa, and now walked onstage. They all fell into one another’s arms. Clemantine’s knees gave out, but her mother held her up.
Wamariya, on the initial escape in 1994:
A man told us he knew the way to safety. We followed him to the Burundi border, to the Akanyaru River. There were bodies floating in it. I was so young that I assumed they were asleep.

All my toe nails fell out. We lived off fruit.
They crossed the Akanyaru River (Clemantine thought the dead bodies floating in it were just sleeping) and into Burundi. Living off fruit, all her toenails fell out.
(Grammar nudniks will see the implication that it was the toenails, not the girl, that were on the fruit diet.) There's one outstandingly awful sentence—
At every stop along the way, the pat narrative of Clemantine’s life is complexified by the gritty, mottled nature of human relationships.
—and his 130th career use of "amazing/amazingly" in the Times:
Clemantine is now an amazing young woman.
Like before she was just startling? It's also worth noting that while he refers to her as his friend, it's only in reading her story that he understands it's not a simple narrative of triumph over adversity (even now, while he has learned that the Oprah moment wasn't a happy ending, he doesn't get the degree to which it was a harrowing nightmare in its own right), and it's grotesque how he comes to think of it as a paradigm of his own pampered but uncomfortable life.

Then again, I'm grateful to be pointed to the piece itself, and I want to pass that on.

Steve is just great on this column, and Moral Hazard the Piercean dog too, and of course Driftglass. There's not enough material of Brooks's own to really work with, but everybody deserves a trophy for trying to engage with the thing.

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