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Broken Memory: A Story of Rwanda

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  353 ratings  ·  74 reviews
Hiding behind a chair, five-year-old Emma can’t see her mother being murdered, but she hears everything. When the assassins finally leave, the terrified girl stumbles away from the scene, motivated only by the memory of her mother’s last words: "You must not die, Emma!" Eventually, Emma is taken in by an old Hutu woman who risks her own life to hide the child. A quiet bond ...more
Hardcover, 144 pages
Published October 1st 2009 by Groundwood Books (first published January 1st 2007)
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Canadian Reader
In this brief, restrained novel, Elisabeth Combres, a former French journalist who worked in Latin America and Africa, introduces the topic of the 1994 Rwandan genocide to older children and younger teens. The book focuses on Emma, a Tutsi orphan, who—at the age of five—was directed by her mother to hide against the wall of her family home when the genocidaires banged at the door. Traumatized by her mother’s death, Emma had wandered for some time. Then, after watching a gentle, elderly Hutu peas ...more
Mar 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing

Emma, a young girl, sits hiding behind a chair, her legs tucked under her, not moving, or daring to make a sound. As she sits there, she is tormented by the all too realistic sounds of her mother being beaten to death by Hutu extremists. After it is all over and the men leave, young Emma is not motivated to move at all. She has nothing left, no family. She has nothing but her mother’s words, “You must not die Emma!”
As Emma tried to survive, she was forced to sleep in bushes, go for many days wi
Oct 15, 2009 rated it did not like it
Emma’s mother is murdered practically in front of her when soldiers come to exterminate her people, the Tutsis. She finds refuge with an old Hutu woman, whom she calls Mukecuru (grandmother). Mukecuru makes sure Emma is safe, hiding her from patrolling soldiers, and raising her as if she were her own daughter. As she grows up, Emma meets others whose lives were forever altered by the war – a boy whose skull was crushed in by soldiers (who still suffers post traumatic stress disorder), and an old ...more
Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
This novel about the genocide of the Tutsi people in Rwanda centers around Emma, who is 4 when she hears, while hiding, her mother being murdered. She manages to escape and walks until she finds refuge with an old Hutu woman, with whom she then lives. The story focuses on how the killings affected the survivors, and it's vividly portrayed by Combres. Emma's fears and psychological problems are not the only ones addressed, however. Another character, Ndoli, is far more traumatized, as he was forc ...more
Kim Nemeth
When I started this book I had very little background knowledge of the Rwanda Genocide and chose it to help me learn. This book tells the story of Emma who has survived the genocide but lost her mother. Her life and fears after the event are interesting but I found that I didn't get a good feel for her before her mother was killed.

I will recommend this book to students who have a background knowledge and are looking for a nice easy read.
Nov 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Élisabeth Combres

„La mémoire trouée“ est un roman d’Élisabeth Combres. La thématique du roman est la situation du peuple du Rwanda après le génocide. L’histoire est basée sur des faits historiques réels. Les personnages, en revanche, ont été inventés par l’auteure, et sont donc fictifs.

En avril 1994 au Rwanda, lorsque la guerre civile entre Tutsi et Hutu commence, Emma, une fille de cinq ans, assiste involontairement au meurtre de sa mère. Entendant les Tutsis arrivés, la
Beyond Words
Ceci était pour l'école, donc je devais le lire lentement, ce qui n'est pas si amusant. Néanmoins, je crois que ceci pouvait être meilleur. C'est un bon introduction du genocide qui est arrivé au Rwanda, mais les personnages ne sentaient pas 3 dimensionnel. C'était un peu confusant avec de l'écriture qui n'était pas bon, ce qui manquait de détails. Emma ressemble à un nom de quelqu'un britannique, pas d'un rwandais. Mukecuru était si gentille et Ndoli était mystérieux. Au total, je n'étais pas s ...more
Eileen Corbett
Jan 30, 2011 rated it liked it
"Slide behind there, close your eyes, put your hands over your ears. Do not make the slightest move, not the slightest noise. Tell yourself that you are not in this room, that you see nothing, hear nothing, and that everything will soon be over. You must not die, Emma!"

Emma, a young Tutsi girl, was only five years old when she witnessed her mother being murdered during the genocidal war in Rwanda. This riveting novel reveals how Emma escaped, the nightmares that have haunted her both day and nig
Amy Fretz
Nov 24, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction-novel
Broken Memory is the story of a young girl's traumatic experience of the Rwandan genocide. The story begins with her hiding as her mother is murdered and ends with her finding closure in her old home when she finds a picture of her mother and realizes that her memories weren't stolen from her. This may be an interesting book to read as a class to gain insight into Rwanda. The book is rather dark and I would not recommend its use in young classes.
Mar 03, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: young-adult
As far as accounts of the Rwandan genocide go, this fictional novel seemed rather innocuous. I just didn't connect emotionally. I felt the book was a little too sparse to convey the depth of horror of these events.
Nov 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
my thoughts about this book are the same as what i hope to one day say about the suffering and the brokenness of our world: the ending was worth it
Jill Dater
Mar 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
For Grade 9 Genocide Unit. An excellent easier text for ELL students or very low readers.
May 21, 2014 added it
Aduse Boateng
May 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
The story in Broken Memory takes place in Rwanda, where a 5 year old girl named Emma is left traumatized after she heard her mother get murdered by assassins; the Rwandan Genocide. The Rwandan genocide was a mass slaughter of the Tutsi tribe by the Hutu (the majority government of Rwanda). Emma successfully evades the assassins after her mother is murdered, and lives on the streets for a while. But with the help of a lady named Mukecuru (who hides Emma from the assassins), she has to do her best ...more
Victoria Bickford
Jan 08, 2018 rated it liked it
I chose three stars because the book in general was great, but the main point in the book was not easy to figure out. I can only assume at this point. Also I enjoyed the book because it told a story of what a normal child in Rwanda was going through at the time. I learned about Rwanda in English with Ms. Short, so it was kind of cool to go even deeper into what the Tutsi's went through.
Dec 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Its crazy how gifted most people in this world are. We all get what we want, whenever we want it. We are very fortunate to have a house and our own families to love. But some people aren’t as fortunate to have these things. Some people have no money, house or even families.
“Broken Memory” shows the dark side of some of the families in the world. Élisabeth Combres, author of this book, tells the story of a poor girl named Emma. She lives in the country of Rwanda, Africa where one of the worst gen
May 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
Emma is a five-year-old, Tutsi girl living with her mother at the time of a civil war in Rwanda. The genocide starts suddenly, and Emma and her mother are trapped when Hutus come to her door to kill them. She huddles behind a couch listening to grisly sounds of her mother being hacked to death with machetes. At first she is crippled with the hopelessness of not having anyone left in the world, total desolation. But she cannot betray her mother’s last request to her, “…you must not die Emma!” Sh ...more
Oct 18, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
April 1994. Rwanda is at war with itself. The Hutus and the Tutsi's. On April 6th, after the assassination of the Rwandan president, the Rawandan army begins massacring the Tutsi population. Almost one million Tutsi citizens are killed. Emma's mother is one of them.

Emma is five years old when her mother is brutally murdered by Hutu rebels. When they arrive at her house, Emma's mother hides her behind the sofa telling her "you must not die, Emma!" These last words stay in Emma's mind and make her
Beyond Words
3.5 rating.
This book was mediocre. I liked the narrator (Emma, a young girl that varies ages throughout the book) had a reason to continue living. I never knew about the Rwanda genocide, thus, with the knowledge I grasped with this fictional story based on true events and others' experiences, my eyes were widened. While I didn't cry during it, it was very thought provoking. Furthermore, at times it got confusing because the timing kept varying. The writing wasn't all that great, but mostly unde
Peyton Engborg
Broken Memory by Elisabeth Combres is a novel about a young girl who went through a traumatic experience when she was younger. As she gets older she begins to remember those horrific moments and makes new friends who have undergone the same experience as her. I found that this novel was hard to get into, and it wasn't until the middle of the story that things started to get even a little interesting. The first half of the book just kept rambling on about the awful memories of the young girl wat ...more
Moeko Yamaguchi
-time: 100 minutes
-7 words summary: Emma, murdered, Mukecucu, hiding, cruel, Rwanda, sad:

1.Emma heard her mother murdered. If your mother murdered by someone in front of you, what would you do?
-I have no idea. I cannot imagine such a situation, but it is cruel and maybe I will scream and cry.
2.Her mother said, "Slide behind there, close your yeys, put your hands over your ears. Do not make the slightest move, not the slightest noise. Tell yourself that your are not in this room, that you see no
Apr 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Broken Memory is a historical fiction book because it is set in a historical time period in Rwanda's history. I loved this book very discriptive. One very important event that happens in the story is when Emma, the main character's mother is killed while Emma is hiding behind the couch. Emma does not see her mother's murder, but she hears it, all of it. When Emma knows the Hutu murderers are gone, she immediately left her home and ran. Every night she hid and slept in bushes. Emma soon realized ...more
Kelsey Hoban
Apr 29, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: young-adult, t-l-307
This story is riveting, eye opening and inspiring in all ways. THis story is about young girl, who hears her mother get murdered. After the murderes leave, Emma, the girl leaves the house where he mother was killed and goes on to meet good friends that help her through this difficult time. She is motivated only by the last words of her mother telling her she must not die. With the help of friends along the way she is able to go back to the house her mother was killed in, heal and begin her new p ...more
Kristanne Duncan
Nov 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book. What an incredible story about a young girl and all she has to deal with after hearing the murder of her mother when she is only five years old. After listening to the death of her mother, Emma runs to find safety. She finds herself on the doorstep of an old woman who risks her life to hide and take care of Emma. As the years pass, Emma's dreams are haunted by what happened that awful night. However, her memories of her mother are fading, she remembers less and less abo ...more
Jan 03, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: africa, genocide, rwanda, war
Emma and her mother are part of the Tutsi ethnic group in Rwanda. They lead a peaceful life, until one day their village is invaded by soldiers. Emma hides behind a couch, and hears her mother get brutally murdered by Hutu soldiers. Orphaned, she flees from home, and finds refuge in an old woman's home. She calls the woman Mukecuru, and they develop a silent, trusting relationship, where Emma slowly feels safer. But her nightmares do not end, and her memories of the horrific genocide plague her ...more
Jun 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
Age: 10-14 (Grades 6-9)

Genre: Realistic fiction

Diversity: African perspective

Illustration: None

Response: While relatively short this was a very moving story. Starting with the ethnic cleansing that occurred in Rwanda in 1994 and following the effects that this period in history had on the people of Rwanda from the viewpoint of a Tutsi child this story made me want to learn more about this period of African history.

Curricular: This would be a good book to assign in a social studies or world histo
Chelsea Cameron
A young girl named Emma witnesses her mother being murdered by assassins in Rwanda. After Emma hears her mother’s last words, “you must not die, Emma!” she is determined to live and hide from these horrible people. An old Hutu woman who risks her own life to hide her takes in Emma. They form a bond and eventually the war ends. This story is about Emma overcoming what she saw and all of the horrific events that occurred. When the country established courts that allowed victims to face their torme ...more
Oct 11, 2011 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed reading about Emma, the Tuti teenage girl who survived the Rwandan genocide. At the age of four, Emma witnesses her mother being brutally being murdered. Having to grow up with these awful memories haunting her day in and day out, "Broken Memory" is a perfect tale of what it is like living with these memories and growing up in a society such as such a hostile environment that Emma is forced to grow up in. Having to confront her nightmares and continue on with her life, you will ...more
Emma was 5 years old when the Hutu people started a mass killing of the Tutsi people. She hid behind the couch while her mother was brutally murdered. Hours and hours later she crawls out and then carefully treks away from the village, hiding where she can, eating scraps and drinking muddy water. Eventually she is taken in by an old Hutu woman.

Written simply, with short chapters, this is an amazing story of courage in the face of danger and how early events can (obviously) have a huge impact on
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