This Is Not Who We Are

Sophie Buchaillard
Publication Date: 
Monday, June 13, 2022
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1994, Iris and Victoria are pen friends. Iris writes about her life with her family in Paris. Victoria is in a refugee camp in Goma having fled the genocide in Rwanda in which thousands are being killed. One day Victoria’s letters stop, and Iris is told she has been moved.

Twenty years later Iris, a new mother, is working as a journalist in London. As she prepares to return to work, her thoughts turn to Victoria and what might have happened to her. She pitches a story to her editor which sets her on a journey to find her pen friend. But as she follows the story, things emerge that make her question her own past. Was her father, a French government official, somehow involved in the genocide? Are her childhood memories more fiction than fact? Why is she looking for Victoria, really?

For Victoria, the last twenty years have been ones of migration, to Goma, then to Paris and finally to London. There she starts a new life with her youngest brother Paul, and leaves the past behind. Or so she thinks until she is suddenly confronted with the decision to reconnect with her genocide-supporting middle brother Benjamin.

How have the lives of these two women, who shared a moment in time, changed in the past twenty years? As the pressure of long-kept family secrets builds, will they ever find each other? 


‘Sophie Buchaillard’s novel is a stark and terrifying reminder that only the most fragile screen separates the familiar from the abyss, the comforts of home from the most obscene and extreme violence. It is an elegant and sombre reflection on what it means to retain one’s humanity in the face of a brutal and dehumanising cataclysm.' – Richard Gwyn


Author Q&A with Sophie Buchaillard:



Review by Katherine Stansfield

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

A multi-layered and very moving novel about the Rwandan genocide and the culpability of the French government. The central idea of pen friends whose letter-writing is disrupted by war feels original and offers a fruitful way into this complex subject matter. An excellent debut and I can't wait to see what Sophie Buchaillard writes next.

Review by Rachel Rees, Buzz Magazine

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Timely questions regarding colonialism and the devastating way its impacts echo down the ages are sensitively explored in Sophie Buchaillard’s new novel, This Is Not Who We Are. The author takes her own childhood memories of exchanging pen pal letters with Victoria, a young Rwandan girl caught up in the country’s genocide, as the starting point for her work. 

While in reality Victoria’s fate remains unknown, within the pages of her book Buchaillard imagines what may have become of her and her family. Eschewing easy answers and neat conclusions in favour of a searing depiction of the brutal legacy that childhood trauma leaves upon a life, the novel is at its most engaging when delving deep into the psyche of Victoria’s two brothers – one of whom is mentally scarred by the systematic killings, while the other helped to carry them out. 

[T]he story [...] certainly succeeds in shedding fresh light on an atrocity that is far too little known in the West. That it does so through the eyes of a real girl who fell through the gaps of history affords it a poignancy that stays with you long after you've turned This Is Not Who We Are's last page.


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