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International Women's Day: Translating the testimony of a Rwandan survivor

This International Women’s Day, King’s academic Dr Zoe Norridge argues that we should pay more attention to Rwandan women’s voices. 

In an essay broadcast on BBC Radio 3, Dr Norridge, a Senior Lecturer in English and Comparative Literature at King’s, argues there should be a place on our bookshelves for Rwandan survivor Yolande Mukagasana’s account of the 1994 genocide, alongside stories of the Holocaust and other genocides from Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur.

As part of the Women Writers to Put Back on the Bookshelf series on BBC Radio 3, Yolande’s memoir Not My Time to Die, written in the heat of the aftermath of the genocide, is described as powerful, intimate and daring.

The book was translated by Zoe Norridge, and published with Rwandan publisher Huza Press in time for the 25th commemoration of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi last year.


“We need these Rwandan stories. Genocide aims to destroy a people, in whole or in part. Writing about escape and survival in the face of genocide reminds us those people are just like us. Children with favourite toys, parents fighting to keep their sons and daughters safe,” Dr Norridge tells BBC Radio 3.

Reading these accounts shapes our own memories and intimate understandings of the past. Mukagasana’s book is as powerful as those written by Holocaust survivors. Her work is well known in Belgium, France and Rwanda. It is time we paid more attention to her writing in English. It is time to imagine; and it’s time to get personal– Dr Zoe Norridge

In Rwanda, Yolande Mukagasana is a well-known writer, public figure and campaigner for remembrance of the genocide.

She has authored three testimonies, a collection of interviews with survivors and perpetrators and two volumes of Rwandan stories. Her work has received numerous international prizes, including an Honourable Mention for the UNESCO Education for Peace Prize. 

Not My Time to Die was the first survivor testimony to be published in French as La mort ne veut pas de moi in 1997.  The book is the personal account of Yolande's life as a nurse and mother of three who ran her own health clinic.

“She was educated and spoke her own mind,” says Dr Norridge. “People needed her and were jealous of her. In the book, we follow her footsteps, feel something of her fear, admire her daring and share in her hope that her children will survive.”

Yolande was separated from her family and forced to flee, but didn’t lose hope of finding her three children alive. 

Through the massacres, she lost her children and witnessed her husband being killed. Dr Norridge says she conveys these stories with layers of  familial intimacy and through remembered conversations.

“Mukagasana shows us her full self, even when doing so doesn’t present her as a saintly survivor but instead as a brave, muddled and multi-faceted human being. Such stories remind us of the urgency of responding to violence. To sense this urgency we need to feel the costs of genocide.” Dr Norridge adds. 


Dr Norridge was selected as one of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and BBC’s New Generation Thinkers in 2011. Launched in 2010 at Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival of Ideas, each year 10 academics are selected to be New Generation Thinkers, with over 500 academics attending AHRC and BBC workshops, developing programme ideas.

The 2020 scheme will open its call for applicants in the Summer. Click here for more information.

Listen to Dr Norridge's essay broadcast on BBC Radio 3 here. 

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Zoe Norridge

Zoe Norridge

Reader in African and Comparative Literature and Visual Cultures

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