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More stories coming from Congo on the way

Argentine Imanirakunda working with New York novelist Dawn Hurley on second book about her life in the Congo before coming to Athabasca

ATHABASCA – In the three years since their first novel together, The Place Between Our Fears: Life in Congo and Beyond, was published, Argentine Imanirakunda and Dawn Hurley have been working on a second instalment.  

“This book really is Argentine's stories, it’s her growing up before I ever met her. It has all the stories from her childhood,” Hurley said. asked Argentine, ‘How did you survive all of this?’ and so we kind of wanted to answer that.” 

Imanirakunda first came to Canada from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2017, making her way to Athabasca on her first day in the country. The first novel centered around her and fellow refugee Mapendo Ndongotsi’s journey to Canada from the time after they met Hurley. 

“My husband and I moved to Congo for three years for his job working with a non-profit there. I was teaching English and doing other things. I was at a centre for people with disabilities that Argentine had been treated at and then was in a sewing group at, so I just went and visited there to say hello and that's where I met her,” said Hurley, explaining how she met Imanirakunda.  

After arriving in Canada, Imanirakunda and Hurley spoke regularly via video calls, which eventually morphed into the process they’ve developed for putting the novels together. 

“Argentine is telling the stories in Swahili, which is interesting because when she was growing up in her village, she wasn't even speaking Swahili, she was speaking another language, so she's translating it in her head into Swahili and telling me this story she remembers from her life. I go and write kind of a version of each story down and we spend a long time just compiling different stories,” Hurley said.  

The decision to write the second novel came after COVID-19 hit, giving both Hurley and Imanirakunda something to focus on during the difficult time.  

“I was going to Dawn about war and war and problem and problem and I thought, this is too much,” Imanirakunda said, explaining that as she realized just how much she had left to say it seemed more and more like a second book would be possible.  

“With Argentine, after the first book, her mom said, ‘Why didn't you put in the story about how they stole your blanket?’ and there was another story that I had known but it didn't really fit in the timeline of the first novel. Argentine was in treatment in Goma at the centre for people with disabilities and the volcano that is just outside of the city erupted, an enormous eruption that covered half of the town,” Hurley said. 

Mount Nyiragongo, about 10 km north of Goma, which lies on the border with Rwanda on the northern shore of Lake Kivu, continues to erupt with the latest major eruption occurring in May 2021, which displaced more than 360,000 people and once again devastated the city. 

Because the first book was from Hurley’s perspective, they were unable to fit in these stories. However, following the increase in discussion surrounding immigration in the United States, she felt it was a better time than any to share all the other stories Imanirakunda had. 

“Every story starts and ends with Argentine saying, ‘I don't remember I'm going to go and ask my mother or my brothers or someone’ and it has actually been amazing because Argentine has had so many people in her life that source so many stories,” Hurley said. 

“It's been really neat to hear the conversations with her family and thinking about their own history. Really, if nothing else, the book is certainly about the incredible love of her mother, to carry Argentine and her whole family through those hard times. It was especially great during times where Argentine also really missed her family, it reminds yourself of the love that's there.”  

The duo is hoping their book will be available soon as it is completed and in the final stages of revision.  

“Maybe next year,” Imanirakunda said.  

“It is a lot more challenging because it is in Argentine's voice it's all her story, so it is less familiar to me. We're writing it together, but it's also been so much more interesting because it's really opened my eyes and taken me there in ways that I could never go normally,” Hurley concluded, explaining the biggest difference between the two novels.  

“People need to see the beauty of immigration.” 

dbrad@athabasca.greatwest.ca