- Sep 6, 2020
Tracing the Cracks by Dominique Alonga review – raw, heartbreaking, and heartwarming.
by Uwera Nina Ntaganzwa
"Tracing the Cracks is a work of fiction that tells a story about trauma, healing, and love."
Tracing the Cracks is a work of fiction that tells a story about trauma, healing, and love. It is a first-person narrative by an unnamed protagonist in her twenties who keenly describes her daily encounters, troubles, and joys. In doing so, she highlights the struggles of growing up after the genocide against Tutsi to parents, and in a community of people who are trying to heal and move forward after losing their loved ones and belongings. Tracing the Cracks reminds us that as the country reconstructs and works towards reconciliation, so are its citizens. Like the protagonist, children who are born during and after the genocide are healing too; and while doing so, in many ways, they are also tracing the cracks to theirs and other’s wounds.
The unnamed protagonist, probably my favourite character, is an inviting and relatable individual. She is sarcastic, yet so affable, sensitive yet so strong-willed; she is the epitome of persistence and courage especially for a young person who is dealing with inherited trauma, the trauma of others around her, and the ‘normal’ pressures of becoming that all young adults experience.
All other characters, too, speak to the writer’s remarkable descriptive writing. They are vividly portrayed, each with their own distinct personality, and graced with Kinyarwanda names – a major highlight. Reading a story with characters whose names are very familiar, and with no pun intended, close to home, was gratifying. In addition to the vernacular, the names made the novel more Rwandan and interesting. Allow me to go off on a tangent here. There is something beautiful about one of yours writing your story – it makes you feel truly seen and truly known, and personally, kept me all the more engaged.
Among other themes, Tracing the Cracks explores mental health struggles that I believe many Rwandans have experienced and still experience. Struggles such as the trauma that results from losing loved ones and not knowing what happened to them, being unable to speak of what happened to them when you do know, and growing up in a home with people whose stories are not known or told for that reason. The aspects of the book that explored these notions are what broke my heart most. It is incredible how many wounds the story reveals and how the author manages to describe the characters’ journeys to healing, even in unconventional ways (culturally speaking) such as going to therapy, in not very many pages.
While exploring themes like trauma, the author also manages to explore a developing love story. That was interesting. Not many Rwandan stories – at least those I’ve read – explore love in the way it is done in this novel. For so long, our stories have only highlighted the events and experiences of the genocide against Tutsi and rightfully so. It is a significant part of our history and will always be. As time passes, though, and as more people tell their stories, other facets and interests of the storytellers arise. They are spoken of in ways that weren’t being done before and I would like to believe that this is one striking outcome of the journey of healing. As we heal, we are able to address other emotions and occurrences that we would otherwise not be able to, and that is something that is also exceptionally highlighted by the author.
Tracing the Cracks is raw and heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time. Parts of it are tragic and others are entertaining. Some conversations are uncomfortable, and others, even those that are not had, are tragic. Yet, all of this work together to make a beautiful story; one that must be read and shared.