Friday, April 18, 2008

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda

I presume you are reading this book because you desire a closer look, and that you, too, are properly disturbed by your curiosity. Perhaps, in examining this extremity with me, you hope for some understanding, some insight, some flicker of self-knowledge--a moral, or a lesson, or a clue about how to behave in this world: some such information. I don't discount the possibility, but when it comes to genocide, you already know right from wrong. The best reason I have come up with for looking closely into Rwanda's stories is that ignoring them makes me even more uncomfortable about existence and my place in it.
I struggled to read this book by Philip Gourevitch for two entire weeks. Like Gourevitch says, there is a moral obligation to know about what went on in Rwanda. What was I doing when 800,000 human beings were murdered by their neighbors? I was enjoying my first child, who had just turned one. I spent my days pushing a baby in a blue stroller on clean sidewalks in a college town in Ohio. If I heard of "Rwanda" at all, it was while I cut up bananas and placed them on my baby's high-chair while the evening news played in the background.
The piled-up dead of political violence are a generic staple of our information diet these days, and according to the generic report all massacres are created equal: the dead are innocent, the killers monstrous, the surrounding politics insane or nonexistent. Except for the names and the landscape, it reads like the same story from anywhere in the world: a tribe in power slaughters a disempowered tribe, another cycle in those ancient hatreds, the more things change the more they stay the same. ... The generic massacre story speaks of "endemic" or "epidemic" violence and of places where people kill "each other." and the ubiquity of the blight seems to cancel out any appeal to think about the single instance. These stories flash up from the void and, just as abruptly, return there. The anonymous dead and their anonymous killers become their own context. The horror becomes absurd.
Here is a story, then, of what went on in Rwanda in 1994 when the government of Rwanda called everyone in the Hutu majority to kill everyone in the Tutsi minority. In a period of three months, genocide swept through the country. Hutu uncles murdered their Tutsi nephews. Neighbors who once dined together took up machetes and murdered.

It is all, still, impossible to grasp. I'm not crazy about Gourevitch's writing style, but it doesn't really matter. Read this book, or any book about the Rwandan genocide, because we don't know anywhere near enough.


Dad2Three said...

This book took me about three months to finish because I had to distract myself with other books while reading it. It's a horrible testimony to the world we live in. Anyone who thinks mankind has made "wonderful advancements" in the past 2,000 years should read, "We Wish to Inform You..." Same old stuff, different date, different country names ...

Bonnie Jacobs said...

I read Sunday at the Pool in Kigali by Gil Courtemanche. I was horrified. I still want to sit down with the husband of a woman I met about that time. He moved here after the killings in Kigali, and I have a feeling I should hear his story ... if he's willing to talk about it.

Thanks for sharing your review with Book around the World. I'll have the link inserted in the post within a few minutes: