Arresting firsthand accounts of the 1994 Rwandan genocide from 14 men, women and children who survived the weeks of slaughter.
As he did in Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak (2005), journalist Hatzfeld provides informative introductions to each chapter but allows his subjects to speak for themselves. The collection’s devastating power comes from the no-holds-barred narratives, with additional kudos to translator Coverdale for rendering their words in spare, haunting English. Beer helped save his life, declares Rwililiza. The Hutus rewarded themselves with countless drinks after a day of killing, he explains; on each successive morning, they were more hung over and less effective as murderers. Although Rwililiza is a teacher, he somberly asserts that education does not necessarily prevent genocide—rather, it may make killers “more efficient.” Christine Nyiransabimana, who was in fifth grade when the war began, offers the painful perspective of a mixed-race child. Her Tutsi father was cut down with a machete in front of his Hutu wife, and Christine was threatened because of her Tutsi blood. Angélique Mukamanzi, now 25, is perhaps the most memorable informant here, speaking with subtle psychological insight about why some survivors change the details of their experience with each retelling. Mukamanzi discusses a neighbor who initially insisted that her mother died inside the church at N’tarama, but later said that the death occurred while they were hiding in a marsh. “To me, there is no lie,” she says. “Maybe [the daughter] had abandoned her while running through the marsh and felt bad about that.” The details may change, but for the Rwandan survivors, the memories themselves will never disappear.
Hatzfeld is to be commended for helping to preserve crucial eyewitness testimony and for sharing it with what one hopes will be a very large audience.