In 1994, The Rwandan Hutu majority was directed by the government to murder everyone in the country’s Tutsi minority. Over the course of one hundred days, 800,000 people were killed, often by machete. Philip Gourevitch, a staff writer at The New Yorker, offers his account of this genocide and its aftermath, drawing the title of his book from a letter sent by pastors in one Tutsi community to their church president, a Hutu.
Gourevitch writes compellingly of the ethnic strife and mass killings in Rwanda. He describes his reactions and reflections during his repeated visits to this tiny African country and uses the stories of the people he interviews to add depth to his narrative.
Gourevitch provides the reader with his motivation for probing into these grizzly events: “[T]he 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. The horror, as horror, interests me only insofar as a precise memory of the offense is necessary to understand its legacy.”
The author explains why the events in Rwanda should not be regarded as just another tribal dispute. The effects of this genocide impacted Rwanda and neighboring countries directly. Additionally, he examines the responses of the Central African and international communities for what they did or did not do in historical context.
Larger questions emerge which neither Gourevitch nor any author can definitively answer: Can animosity between majority and minority groups be overcome to form cohesive societies with a national identity? Can new leaders offer sane political orders? What does it mean to be human in a world that can be at times inhuman? Through his reflections, research, and interviews, Philip Gourevitch forces us to examine the best and the worst of the human spirit, as we ask, “Why does this happen?”.
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