“Murambi, the Book of Bones” by Boubacar Boris Diop Essay

August 17, 2021 by Essay Writer


Boubacar Boris Diop wrote “Murambi, the Book of Bones”. This novel is important for humanity since the reading reveals the concept of genocide in a unique way. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the book by Diop and reflect on the aspects of this writing.


The book exposes the audience to the horrors and sadness of the genocide that took place in Rwanda. The plot builds around the events of 1994, and the central character is Cornelius Uvimana. He is a history teacher who lives in Djibouti at the time of oppression (Diop 37). He decides to come back to the country to investigate the reasons for the death of his family. The story is told in a polyvocal style to allow the reader to comprehend the complexity of the setting and the core of oppressive experience faced by different people.

Fragmentary Narratives

The novel is a series of fragments. They are not linked narratively; nevertheless, they are interconnected to allow the reader to recollect the events of that period. Notably, the fragments encompass all the phases of the genocide, which are planning and political propaganda, the butchery, and the aftermath of the oppression leading to fragmented communities. The text is divided into four distinct sections. The second and the fourth parts revolve around Cornelius and his attempts to comprehend his personal tragedy and trauma as well as that of his community (Diop 38). The first and third sections are also split into smaller parts. They reveal the stories of other heroes. Interestingly, all the narrations are not connected to each other, and they provide the reader with few details on the lives of characters.

The author has decided to structure the book in such a specific way to exhibit the destructive nature of oppression and personal distress. It also helps to emphasize that mental and physical sufferings are not restricted to language and imagery. The multiple perspectives on the genocide reveal its devastating effects and complexity. Despite the fact that the novel allows each hero to tell the reader his or her individual story, the fragmentation opens up the true nature of trauma. The psychology of severe distress that leads to a split in the human spirit is reflected in the structure of the novel to produce the necessary effect and atmosphere.

Notably, two sections are devoted to Cornelius’ narration. The audience encounters the horrid truth of the genocide through his descriptions. With the help of this character, the reader tries to “fathom intuitively the secret relationship between the trees standing still on the side of the road and the barbarous scenes that had stupefied the entire world during the genocide” (Diop 37). Together with this hero, readers find themselves in the middle of the genocide’s aftermath with its devastating effects.

Victim and Perpetrator Demarcation

The demarcation between victims and perpetrators is not distinct in the novel. The idea that can be traced throughout the plot is a belief that victimhood can result in justification of harassment as the only source by which a country determines its own statehood. Therefore, such domains as victims and oppressors are not discrete. The vagueness of this demarcation lies in Cornelius’s perception of himself as “the perfect Rwandan: both guilty and a victim” (Diop 78). He comprehended that the ideology of victimhood also perpetuated violence. He claimed that it was “absurd of the victims to keep proclaiming their innocence so obstinately” because they resorted to similar means to achieve their goal (Diop 66). This statement is justified by the example of Jessica (a friend of Cornelius). The woman was a member of the resistance movement. She would watch silently how the members of the Front would pitilessly kill the oppressors to liberate Rwanda.

In the same way, Cornelius also found himself guilty. His father contributed to the massacre at a college. Dr. Karekezi “organized the massacre of several thousand people” in which his family members and other people died instead of being saved from oppression (Diop 76). Therefore, he was also a victim and a perpetrator. This obliqueness allows assuming that the binary relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed is wrongful in its core.

Role of Ideologies and Colonialism

The importance of colonialism and ideologies is exposed through Simeon Habineza’s character. When the residents gathered to ruin the premises of the individual responsible for the massacre, he stressed that in their culture, an act of revenge would only cause new attempts of retribution. He was concerned that the villagers believed that their grief gave them moral permission to inflict pain on others and expect an understanding of it. He said, “you have suffered, but that doesn’t make you any better than those who made you suffer” (Diop xi). He also recognized the impact of former colonial powers on the formation of resistance. The book exposes the actions of the French generals and the military, which resulted in large-scale oppression.

The novel reveals that France supported the Hutu-led government to be able to carry out its own agenda (Diop 57). The confrontation between nationalities based on the superiority of one population group over the other has determined institutionalized hierarchy. The colonial power established at a local level resulted in a large-scale massacre. Apart from that, the Western potentate was indifferent to the Rwandan massacre. They believed that it was an atavistic conflict between the tribes. Therefore, they decided not to intervene with it. Such a complex setting has pushed people to resist the colonizer in a violent way. The identity of victims was distorted since they perceived violence as the sole source of liberation.

Forgiveness and Redemption

After so much brutality, forgiveness is possible, and it is the only way to reconstruct society (Diop 111). The victims should reject the idea that they are innocent and strive for non-violent methods to liberate their nation. The possibility of redemption lies in this assumption as well. To redeem themselves, people should employ civil and humane practices (as applied both to victims and perpetrators).

Personal Reaction

The book cannot leave anyone indifferent as it immerses the reader into the atmosphere of trauma. Diop’s book dwells upon genocide from a variety of perspectives, which allows the audience to understand the many aspects of this negative phenomenon. The moral and ethical problems raised by writing through the use of real examples encourage speculating about the importance of social justice, equality, freedom, and other fundamental values. Importantly, although the reading is politically engaged, it allows for a new interpretation of the concept of genocide.


All of the characters have resonated with me strongly since each of them contributes to the overall effect of the book. However, the evolution of Cornelius has produced the strongest impression on me. Together with him, it became possible to come to the assumption that victims and perpetrators mutually affect each other. Moreover, without this hero, it would be impossible to find answers to queries about the genocide and use them correctly to avoid stereotypical representations about the binary character of oppression.


Thus, the book by Diop is a crucial source of understanding of the genocide in Rwanda. It provides a new interpretation of events related to it. Through the use of multiple perspectives, the author has provided the audience with an opportunity to understand the effects of political propaganda, evidence of the genocide, and analyze its aftermath.

Work Cited

Diop, Boubacar Boris. Murambi, the Book of Bones. Translated by Fiona Mc Laughlin, Indiana University Press, 2006.

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