What is “Bycatch” and why should I care?

What is “Bycatch” and why should I care?

A book review by Clare Gearhart


In Bycatch, the author, Sally Asante, provides us with an unflinching study of the psychological nuances of violence and guilt set against the background of the genocide in Rwanda. On the micro level, she speaks to the guilt and shame of a woman whose life course was largely determined by a tragic accident in her early teens. On the macro level she exposes the unspeakable violence of the Rwandan men who perpetrated genocide at a faster rate than Hitler, primarily using machetes as their weapon of mass destruction. Why read this?

First, to better understand the redemptive qualities of the heroine as she finds the courage to speak the truth of her experience and thus find greater peace in her own life. Second, to realize that the perpetrators of the violence are not simply horrendous monsters, but rather people much like ourselves, who have given themselves to carrying out the frenzied abstract notion of exterminating “others” for the greater good of their country.

Take a deep breath, and look at the title for a moment. Bycatch is defined as “the portion of a commercial fishing catch that consists of marine animals caught unintentionally”. Now think of the times you and your friends have been caught up in movements or events that weren’t of your making and led to unexpected behaviors, some good, others not so good. Perhaps an afternoon of drinking followed by ugly arguments and words uttered that might have been best left unspoken. The author’s choice of the title piques our curiosity, and draws us into a story that gives the reader perspective on both deeply personal situations as well as the divisive and unkind world of today’s political climate.

Cole, the heroine, experiences a fearsome tragedy in her early teens. Burying the truth and carrying on proves to control her life in many ways. She becomes a highly respected court reporter, with a penchant for foreign travel and an aversion to lasting relationships. Because of a chance meeting with a suave and accomplished Rwandan gentleman while on assignment in Bruges, she takes a position as a court reporter in Tanzania where the U.N. tribunal sits in judgement of those involved in the Rwandan genocide. There she confronts her former lover who stands accused of horrendous crimes.

The story proceeds to examine both their lives, their joys and loves as well as their deepest secrets. It is a tale of redemption on a personal level and an insight into the minds of the perpetrators, recognizing both their humanity and their extraordinary viciousness.

Perhaps the most stunning facet of the novel is the author’s fearless examination of the nuanced emotions of the characters. Rarely is an author able to dive that deeply. Beyond that is the graceful architecture of the story, a carefully constructed and balanced tale which is quite satisfying. In addition, the author’s evocation of exotic locations and her ability to develop fully rounded characters make reading a pleasure. This is not an easy read, nor was it meant to be. It is a book that reverberates in the mind providing comfort and understanding in a world of apparent chaos.

The book is available both on Kindle and at Diane Pearl’s in Ajijic.

For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com

Ojo Del Lago
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