Author Sally Asante’s novel “Bycatch”
If you’re in search of light reading to take along to the beach, then Lakeside author Sally Asante’s new novel, Bycatch, may not be your best pick.
Bycatch is a serious and well-crafted work that plumbs the nature of guilt through the intertwined stories of two characters who could not differ more from each other. American Cole Tierney, on assignment in Africa for the U.N., has lived her entire life dogged by misplaced guilt arising from a death in her youth. Rwandan politician Georges Kamira, accused as a perpetrator of the Rwandan genocide, is steadfast in his denial of guilt. This juxtaposition is rendered even more arresting by the revelation that Cole and Georges had an intimate relationship ended long before the conflict in Rwanda promoted his hidden, darker side.
The taint of genocide in human DNA is incomprehensible to people of conscience, and yet we are drawn in horrific fascination to the paradox of how seemingly civilized beings can all too readily morph into perpetrators of unspeakable crimes. The Jewish Holocaust haunts us not just because of its scope and coldly mechanized process, but because it was perpetrated by white people upon other white people by the same culture which gave us Kant, Neitzche, Goethe, Bach, and Beethoven.
Western media has given far shorter shrift to genocides perpetrated in Asia and Africa. Atrocities committed upon people of color by white colonialists in the 19th century – and upon them by other people of color in the years since – may occupy brief windows in our headlines, but our collective memories of the extermination of Turkish Armenians, the killing fields of Cambodia, and the millions killed in Biafra have faded into foggy memory.
What little knowledge most of us have gleaned about the Rwandan genocide from film or newcasts barely scratches the surface. Many will be startled by the realization that fully twenty-five years have passed since Rwanda’s season of madness, and few ever knew (even fewer still remember) that nearly a million Africans were exterminated in the span of 100 days.
There were no automated death camps or crematoriums and no faceless executioners. This was violence often perpetrated by killers who bludgeoned or hacked each victim to death and left each body where it fell. Bycatch, however, does not settle for an indictment of the active participants, but also begs the question of colonialism’s role in setting the stage for the horror that followed.
Bycatch delivers a robust picture of this tragic event that ably and movingly connects the dots. More importantly, Bycatch is a thought-provoking commentary on a facet of human history that we might not be eager to digest, but the lessons of which are worth revisiting lest we forget.
Sally Asante served as supervisor of the court reporting staff for the Rwanda War Crimes Tribunal, which both afforded her a front row seat on the judicial proceedings and an opportunity to immerse herself in the local culture.
The result is an account of events which could only have been written by someone who heard them retold by both the accused and the victims, paced by intoxicating descriptions of the lush, tropical setting and a heartfelt embrace of the native people and culture. Asante’s personalization of this event’s many contradictions makes them far more tangible and compelling than the transcripts from which the facts of her account are drawn.
Hear Sally read excerpts from her work, autograph copies of her book, and answer questions about her writing influences, writing process, and her time spent in Africa:
Wed., Feb. 13 – 2PM
Lake Chapala Society | South Campus (see map last below)
50 peso donation
Also featured at this event:
- Live classical guitar by Ivan Olivares
- Photo exhibit: “Faces of Ajijic” by Antonio Rambles
- Cash bar
(Posted by Antonio Ramblés.)