We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families – Philip Gourevitch – book review
This is a fairly comprehensive recent history of Rwandan politics and an attempt to explain how the 1994 Rwandan genocide came about, and to tell exactly what happened in Rwanda during the genocide.
I run a Las Vegas non-fiction book group, and after watching the movie Hotel Rwanda for the third time, and still crying bucketfuls at the end of it I decided I ought to try and understand what had happened there. So I suggested my fellow group members join me in reading this book. Before I read this I read the autobiography of Paul Rusesabagina, An Ordinary Man, which I have reviewed for this blog. With hindsight I probably should have suggested that one for the book group, because this one was tough going, and I think some people dropped out for that reason.
Gourevitch explains the history of tiny Rwanda up to 1994. The Tutsi minority were in positions of authority over the Hutu minority, due to decisions made by the Belgians. There had been previous wars, uprisings and massacres, but nothing on this scale. In fact, in 1994, 800,000 people were murdered in around 100 days, this was the fastest genocide in the history of the world. It was done with cheap, imported machetes. People were chopped up, sometimes tortured before being murdered.
A lot of the book discusses the reactions of the rest of the world while this was going on. Or, to be more accurate, the lack of reaction. Gourevitch tries to explain why this may have been. He has spent a lot of time in Rwanda and interviewed a lot of people. My only criticism is that he doesn’t, for a second, entertain the possibility of another point of view. No reporter who wasn’t there when these things happened can be certain his view is the right one, and, if I’m honest, I believe all of what Gourevitch says, but surely a reported should be more objective?
The book has won a big pile of awards and I think the writer deserves them for his thorough research and the risks he took to do it – going in to Rwanda before the situation was fully resolved must have taken bravery.