Rating: 5 stars
All at once, as it seemed, something we could have only imagined was upon us—and we could still only imagine it. This is what fascinates me most in existence: the peculiar necessity of imagining what is, in fact, real.
This was a very difficult book to read, and an even harder book to review. If it wasn’t for my library’s year-long reading challenge, and the prompt to “read a book written by a journalist”, I never would have even picked this up. But I’m so glad I did, however horrible it was to read. It explained a lot of the questions I had about this dark time. My only other knowledge of the Rwandan Genocide came entirely from the film Hotel Rwanda, which really only showed a select part of the story, and left a great deal of context out. It’s a fantastic film, and I do really recommend it, but this book definitely far surpasses it in terms of information and educational value.
This book is split into two main parts, and in general, they follow first the events leading up to and including the massacre, and then the aftermath and recovery efforts (if some of them can even be called that). It’s a tiring tale with apocalyptic elements straight out of a far-fetched science fiction novel. It feels a little unreal sometimes, this dark age story from just a few years before I was born. It feels anachronistic but then, looking at the world I live in now, so very relevant and intrinsically real.
The massacre itself, this cruel act of genocide, was, and I feel wrong admitting this, my favorite part of the book. It was straightforwardly awful, and there was some part of it that was morbidly fascinating. Gourevitch addresses this phenomenon directly and gives excellent commentary on it without either condemning or condoning. This same very direct but equally objective perspective pervades the entire book, and I really appreciated it.
“It sometimes happens that some people tell lies and others tell the truth.”
The part that disgusted me beyond even the senseless slaughter itself was the reaction or lack thereof on the part of the international community, primarily regarding America and France. I guess people just want to ignore that the French actively supplied the Hutu aggressors and that the world refused to call this a genocide lest they be required to give any aid whatsoever. And when they were forced to help, they continued to help those doing the killing and ignored those who suffered the most. And why? For what? What could have possibly made these modern nations commit such atrocities?
“You cannot count on the international community unless you’re rich, and we are not[…] We don’t have oil, so it doesn’t matter that we have blood, or that we are human beings.”
And it makes sense: look at the USA’s constant neglect of even its own people in recent years and throughout history, as seen in the Michigan water crisis, in post-hurricane Puerto Rico, and in the systematic abuse of African Americans and Mexican immigrants, particularly children. What seems, at face value, wrong and illogical — that first world countries in the modern age could be so cruel and unusual against their fellow man — is actually very, very believable.
And when Rwanda tried to recover on its own, it was attacked again from all angles, from within and from without.
“It’s not so much the human rights concerns, it’s more political. It’s ‘Let’s kill this development, this dangerous development of these Africans trying to do things their own way.'”
This book taught me that human nature is complicated and sometimes very extreme, that people hold grudges, sometimes senselessly and sometimes with good reason. That people can be tipped over the edge and will keep falling until either they or their enemy are dead. What I learned will stick with me forever. In this age of mass killings every other day, it’s something I can hardly ever forget.
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