Twenty years ago, the world looked on in horror at the slaughter of families, neighbours and friends in the Rwandan genocide between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes, which lasted from April to July 1994.
The country and its people are still in the process of recovery and the story is now one of reconciliation and forgiveness, although they will never forget.
Mill Hill freelance writer, journalist and playwright Jemma Wayne felt a deep connection to the genocide through her Jewish roots and links to the Holocaust, and attended a fund-raising talk held by Rwandan Genocide survival support charity, Survivors Fund (SURF), to learn more.
“I was struck most by the overwhelming sense of betrayal and disbelief which still lingered,“ she says. “In a community that had once been so integrated, neighbour betrayed neighbour and friend betrayed friend. That was the beginning for me, this notion of betrayal and it was there I started thinking about other forms of betrayal.
“I always hear the echo that the world promised never again, yet you see it happening again and again.“
The passion she expressly felt for the genocide and its survivors resulted in her first novel, After Before.
The book follows the lives of three women in London who are each struggling with their own sense of betrayal despite having completely different pasts.
Emily is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide; Lynn a terminally ill woman in her 60s who is made to take stock and reflect on her life and how her sacrifices have shaped her life; and Vera is a newly engaged young woman struggling to reconcile and come to terms with her own troubled past.
As the three protagonists’ lives interject, they are each forced to face their dark pasts and battle their demons in order to move on with their lives.
Ultimately the novel is an exploration of identity and modern womanhood, and carrying the shadows of the pasts with you. In the novel, the characters attempt to reconcile their own demons with or without their faith, and Jemma wanted to capture each of the characters at a point of crisis in their lives.
“I think a lot of people either turn towards or away from religion,“ she says, “and I wanted that aspect reflected in the characters.“ Jemma, whose first play Negative Space was staged at Hampstead’s New End Theatre, compiled her research from the testimoniess of Rwandan survivors, papers from the United Nations War Crimes tribunal and historical books. These methods allowed her to gain a true feel for the harrowing events of that time.
Through intertwining the stories of modern women and their own battles with betrayal, the result is a story which Jemma hopes many women will find resonates in some way with their own everyday lives.
“As a writer, ultimately you want to touch and speak to all of your readers, and I hope this story does,“ she says.
- After Before is available now from Legend Press. Details: legend-paperbooks.co.uk