Asked what Running the Rift is about, it would be too easy to say it is about the Rwandan genocide. You could also say it's about an Olympic runner. Both of these are correct, but neither really describe what this book is about at its core. I'd say, more than anything else, Benaron's novel is about character. It asks tough questions about morality, courage, honesty, and integrity.
Given the subject matter, I was hesitant to read this novel. I've read plenty of novels filled with the most horrific scenes pulled from history, but something about the genocide in Rwanda hit me hard. Perhaps it's because it happened in my lifetime. Perhaps my guilt for all my inaction toward issues of social justice is personified in the Western world's reaction to Rwanda. Regardless, I was hesitant to begin this novel, but I did, and I'm glad I made it over that initial fear.
Despite the horrifying events which take place in Running the Rift, Benaron somehow manages to keep the novel light. She doesn't do this by ignoring what happened, or sugar coating it; it seems she does this purely by giving the reader just enough information to know what is going on and peopling the book with characters who make it worth continuing on. This line Benaron walks so carefully displays her natural talents.
In this novel about character, characters are the novel's best quality and its biggest downfall. The characters we meet in Running the Rift are wonderful. I loved them. I loved them. I wanted to shoot the breeze with Jean Patrick. I wanted to be Daniel's best friend. I wanted to join sides with Roger. And I was all about asking Bea out for a date. These people are lovable and I wanted to know more about them than this story allowed. At the same time, the characters were perhaps a little too lovable. The faults they had—which were very few—could be justified given the time and place. The “good guys” were good. The “bad guys” were bad. I'd have loved to have seen more dynamic characters and some shifting loyalties.
Running the Rift is a spectacular novel. It is filled with gorgeous language and an unforgettable cast of characters. In spite of the graphic war scenes, it is a clean novel, a rare example of how grittiness can be portrayed accurately without an R-rating. It is a surprisingly enjoyable read and worthy winner of the Bellwether Prize.
I present Running the Rift with the Best Book of 2012 (so far) award