Gourevitch returns to Rwanda, five books about the genocide.

These Rwandan children represent the hope of the country 15 years after the genocide.
These Rwandan children represent the hope of the country 15 years after the genocide. Photograph by Jon Gosier.

These Rwandan children represent the hope of the country 15 years after the genocide. Photograph by Jon Gosier.

Paris Review editor and longtime New Yorker staff writer Philip Gourevitch recently wrote and talked about returning to Rwanda 15 years after the 100-day genocide that led to the murder of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and some Hutu. 

His report was remarkably favorable.

Led by the forceful but democratic president Paul Kagame, Rwanda is one of the most peaceful and orderly societies in the troubled continent of Africa.  The country has one of the highest, if not the highest, percentage of female legislators in the world. And Kagame has widely instituted the system of gacaca, an open air form of confrontation and reconciliation that has led to the emptying of jails and to Hutu and Tutsi again living cheek by jowl. 

Troubles remain, Gourevitch says, and for the first time in many years there is near universal agreement about the possibility of enduring peace with its neighbors.

Some have taken issue with Gourevitch’s piece, saying that the optimistic portrayal is over done and adding further that Gourevitch is in Kagame’s pocket. 

Whatever one thinks about the contents of Gourevitch’s article, it is undeniable that he has written one of the most important books about the genocide.

Five Books About the Genocide

We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families is an utterly chilling look after the fact at what happened.  The descendant of Eastern European Jewish refugees, Gourevitch arrives in the country for the first time on the fiftieth anniversary of V-E Day.  The product of reporting he did during the following several years for The New Yorker, We Wish to Inform You includes a history of Rwanda, a revisiting of those horrific days and their legacy, and conversations with survivors and genocide architects.

It’s an essential read, but not the only one.

An Ordinary Man is the memoir written by Paul Rusesabagina, the assistant manager who sheltered more than 1,200 refugees in the Hotel Milles des Collines during the genocide and whose story inspired the movie, “Hotel Rwanda.”

 Rusesabagina combines his own story and early habit of negotiating in all situations with some historical information about the country and reflections about man’s inhumanity to man.

Shake Hands With The Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda  is Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire’s first hand account of unsuccesfully trying to prevent the slaughter.  A long time United Nations soldier, Dallaire refused to leave the country when his employer pulled its people out of the country; his story is a gripping telling of his valiant efforts to counter the Hutu extremists. 

The failure took its toll. 

In a 2001 Atlantic Monthly article, Samantha Power wrote movingly of American indifference to the genocide and Dallaire’s post-genocidal despair.  After an extensive period of depression and even suicidal impulses, Dallaire has found meaning in talking about his experiences to younger people and in working to prevent further such occurrences.

Power has written a Pulitzer Prize winning book, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, which looks at America’s pattern of torpid responses to genocides throughout the 20th century.  While the argument can be successfully made that a large difference exists between the America of 1915, when the Armenian genocide broke out, and the America of 1994 that refused to intervene in the massacres in Rwanda, the moral failing remains the same.

Last, but by no means least, French journalist Jean Hatzfeld talked with imprisoned killers in Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak.  Their honesty, directness and the bleakness of their answers are some of the most depressing, powerful and haunting passages I’ve ever read.

What have you read or seen about the Rwandan genocide?
Which work has made the largest impact on you and why?

Is Gourevitch’s account of present-day Rwanda too favorable, or has the country managed to raise itself from the ashes?


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