‘Insidious’ damage of Rwandan genocide remembered 20 years later in Jemma Wayne’s ‘After Before’
- Credit: Archant
It is 20 years since the Rwandan genocide claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, wreaking havoc on those who survived. That shocking episode is captured by Jemma Wayne in her novel After Before, about the interweaved lives of three women from very different backgrounds.
The idea came to the 34-year-old “quite accidentally”, while attending a fundraising event with her husband for Surf, a charity supporting survivors of the genocide.
“That night, listening to one of the speakers, I was struck by the horror of what happened. But more than that, the speaker, even so many years later, was consumed by a sense of betrayal.”
In April 1994, when a plane carrying then President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was shot down, extremists blamed Tutsi rebel group The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), and waged war on its people.
Over four brutal months, until Liberation Day on July 4, when government forces were defeated by the RPF, more than one million innocent men, women and children were murdered and more than half a million women raped.
Wayne’s research included UN War Crime Papers and first hand survivor accounts.
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“Rwanda was a society that had been very integrated, there wasn’t much to differentiate people. But yet neighbour betrayed neighbour, friend betrayed friend – this seemed one of the elements that was tearing everyone apart,” says the Hampstead-raised playwright and novelist, who recently moved from Primrose Hill to Mill Hill.
“I started thinking about other kinds of betrayal, insidious things: untrue words, unkept promises, unlived dreams.”
The three protagonists each carry their own trauma. Emily, an immigrant survivor of the genocide who fled to the UK; Vera, a young woman, newly Christian, struggling to deal with her past; and Lynn, the terminally ill mother of Vera’s boyfriend, who looks back with regret at her life.
The north London setting ranges from St John’s Wood and Regent’s Park to Kentish Town and Hendon.
In her contemporary exploration of modern womanhood, Wayne deftly articulates heavy, topical issues, including immigration, asylum, post-traumatic stress disorder and euthanasia.
“A lot of the issues are ones that are important to women all over the world and lots of things that link up across cultures and generations. Women have to make choices at some point in their lives and many will admit to feelings of sacrifice or compromise,” adds Wayne, who has two daughters aged three and nine months.
Religion is also central, particularly through Vera, who takes refuge in it but also feels constricted by its limitations.
“My background is Jewish,” explains Wayne, “but at moments of crisis in life, a lot of us either turn towards religion or we turn away from it. So that was definitely something I wanted all my characters to touch on. For example, Emily is struck by a sense of where was God, how could he let this happen? I felt London was the right place for these colliding forces to meet.”
After Before is published by Legend Press, priced £7.99.