‘Each time you tell a story, the spirit of the person who told you the story is standing behind you; and behind him there’s the spirit of the person who told him the story. And each time you tell a story, they help you to make pictures in the sky.’
The potency of storytelling, its ability to traverse terrain and to cross cultures blazes strong in ‘Christophe’s Story’, an impressive, deeply thought-provoking and moving short novel whose understanding and compassion bathes readers in hope and belief that regardless of who we might be, whatever our backgrounds or beliefs, all our tomorrows might one day be better and brighter.
Removed from a landscape and populace that has been savaged by war, Christophe’s familiar homelands of Rwanda have been substituted for England. Starting at a new school, Christophe is taunted by one of his new class-mates Jeremy. These playground persecutions offer a glimpse at the dynamics of conflict that in the macrocosm of Rwanda led to Christophe’s family becoming embroiled in the programme of ethnic cleansing that was carried out there.
Accidentally revealed his war-scarred body, Christophe comes to tell his class his story of war-torn Rwanda, the death of his brother Matthieu and the burning of his house. That his class are unaware there has been a war in Rwanda is an indictment of the narrowness of focus and the Anglo-centricity of the classroom.
His storytelling constitutes a process of abreaction for Christophe who through reliving his trauma is able to begin the process of relieving that trauma arriving at resolve. Eager that the wider community should be aware of Christphe’s story, his teacher Miss Finch writes this down, an act of sacrilege for Christophe, who follows his grandfather Babi’s belief that stories begin to die when written down. Angered Christophe tears the story into pieces, however, Babi’s spirit visits him vesting within him the role of storyteller, master of words, lives and light’
Karin Littlewood’s illustrations brilliantly capture the suffering and pain surrounding the war in Rwanda yet successfully sparkle with the innate pleasures and life of childhood. To document such large political ideas, such hatreds and injustice in so short a novel and yet to leave readers awed, heartened and feeling in a real sense more tolerant is an enviable achievement and one which this exceptional book achieves with a real zeal.