An Ordinary Man: An Autobiography – Paul Rusesabagina and Tom Zoellner – book review
This is the world’s most inaccurately-titled book. Paul Rusesabagina is anything but ordinary. This is the autobiography of the man who inspired the movie Hotel Rwanda. It’s a great movie, and tells the story of those few days in and around the hotel very well, if this book is anything to go by.
In 1994 the Hutu minority of Rwanda turned on the Tutsi majority and performed the fastest genocide in the history of the world. I read another book to try to fully understand how and why this happened; We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families by Philip Gourevitch, I reviewed it for this blog.
The autobiography tells of Paul’s childhood in rural Rwanda, and he tells us a bit about what is probably a pretty normal upbringing for his country. It sounds like a beautiful place, all lush green hills and valleys. He tells a little about the tensions between Tutsis and Hutus that existed before 1994. Paul is officially a Hutu, because his father was, but his mother was a Tutsi, he tells us that it’s not unusual for this inter-marriage. He must have been a bright child because his family were intending for him to become a priest, which he almost does, but in the end he says it’s not for him. He tells of growing up, marrying, having children, divorcing, and then meeting his second wife, who is a Tutsi.
He becomes a manager of a Belgian-owned luxury hotel in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. He sounds like a smooth operator – a people person with a way with words. He would spend time building relationships with the powerful people of Kigali as part of his job, getting to know all his regulars, who used the hotel as a meeting place regularly. He gave many small gifts and charmed them into liking and respecting him.
When the genocide begun, people took refuge first at his home, then he got them to the hotel. As time goes by, hundreds of Tutsis and persecuted Tutsi-sympathising Hutus take refuge at the hotel. Paul never questions the risk he puts himself at to help these people, he only knows that to help them is the right thing to do. He talks us through how he manages to keep all those people safe for over three months. He explains to us his thinking behind every manoeuvre he makes to do so, but he never comes across as smug or self-satisfied or even particularly proud, he’s just very matter-of-fact about his actions.
He is a truly incredible and inspiring man, and his actions should provoke many to consider whether they could be as strong as he was.