To women who are incarcerated, often survivors of their own personal trauma, which likely fueled their criminal behavior, reading about the struggles of others can become a trigger-resulting in painful memories and emotional turmoil. The thing about facilitating book discussion is that literature takes us to unexpected places, and the outcomes can be difficult to predict.
In the words of Words Beyond Bars facilitator Marissa Peacock, her group responded powerfully and positively to a novel that changed their perspective and challenged their thinking.
“Reading a book that is set during the 1994 Rwandan genocide made me a little nervous. Will the women relate to a young male character in a country far away? For that matter will I relate to such a story? I was in my teens when the genocide happened and although it saddened me it was far removed from my life and therefore vague and obscure. Would it be the same for these women? It was with these conflicting emotions that we began Running the Rift. Winner of the Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, Naomi Benaron has written a stunning and gorgeous novel that—through the eyes of one unforgettable boy— explores a country’s unraveling, its tentative new beginning, and the love that binds its people together.
I should not have been nervous at all as the women (and I) were moved by this beautiful story of a young man and a dream. There was a heated and passionate discussion regarding the supposed “difference” of two peoples based on a foreign nation. What, in their opinion, was really behind the discord of the Hutu and Tutsis? We discussed why the Belgians were in Rwanda in the first place, what makes people different (and the same) to one another. The importance of following a dream and how that dream sometimes blinds us to what is happening in the world.
These women found parts of the story that they understood and related to on a personal level; love, family, education, running – and felt connected to a young Rwandan boy. This made the discussion blaze with insight and unique ideas. I was astounded at how similar the stories of these U.S. based women were to that of a young boy with nothing but a dream – and yet survived a nightmare.
The author’s passion revolves around issues of social justice; we like fiction with a social consciousness too. The best fiction takes us right to the brink.”