Weight of Whispers by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor is about a 1994 Rwandan genocide survivor, and was published in Kenya, East Africa in 2003.
The story begins with a missile attack on a plane, that kills two presidents. The seemingly calculated attack unleashes a chain of tragic events in Rwanda, culminating into one of the world’s most harrowing tales of genocide and ethno-violence. Brothers cut sisters-in-law to death. Arcane fear grips the land. Death hangs in the air. Yet this is just the beginning of the unknown.
Louis Boniface Kuseremane known as Bon-Bon by his family members, a prince by clan and a president at Banque Locale leaves Rwanda with his family on the fifth day after the killing of the presidents, boarding a plane to Europe. With him are his mother Agnethe-mama, his wife Lune and sister Chi-Chi with $3723 and a few belongings.
The plane lands in Kenya which then is supposed to be a stop over. On checking with his country’s embassy, the flag stands at half-mast. He has hope of leaving Kenya soon. This is an English speaking country, he is French speaking. Exile begins here.
They stay in a hotel, knowing it will be for just a few days. With the embassy closed there is no way for him to arrange papers to continue to Europe. With a family of four staying in a first class hotel, it is not long before the money runs out. The family escapes without paying, and go to rent a one roomed house to save money. Bon-Bon’s old friends abandon him.
Bon-Bon tries to register as a refugee with the local United Nations office, but his efforts are frustrated by corrupt officials asking for large amounts of money. Eventually, he does get registered.
With his level of education, Bon-Bon cannot believe that he and his family are refugees. The family shifts to another house, sleep abandons him. Every time the wind blows he seems to hear it call his name. His sister Chi-Chi befriends an Ethiopian who gets her pregnant, a pregnancy that Bon-Bon does not know about. She dies due to over bleeding. Agnethe-mama dies a day before they are supposed to leave for Canada. She had earlier on suffered a stroke. Lune leaves for Canada, thinking Bon-Bon will join him soon, but he stays to take care of the graves.
The book leaves you with melancholic feeling. All seems to happen in just a blink of an eye. There seems to be no future. When life should have turned around for the best, it changes for the worst. War knows no favor.
The book received the 2003 Caine Prize for African Writing.