SPEAK RWANDA by Julian R. Pierce


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A somewhat muted but well-informed fictional exploration of the genocide in Rwanda that left, by some estimates, at least 800,000 dead. Newcomer Pierce isn’t interested so much in a litany of horrors as he is in getting at the causes, and at some understanding of how human beings can perpetrate such obscenities. He uses a half-dozen first-person narrators to re-create the events leading up to the period of genocidal frenzy during which the majority Hutu people turned on their old adversaries, the Tutsi, to settle scores. Several of Pierce’s Hutu, including a power-hungry, small-time politician and a young thug, nurse a fierce hatred of the Tutsi, based on decades of tension between the two peoples, and it doesn’t take much for them (urged on by national political figures) to enthusiastically support a genocidal campaign against the Tutsi and those Hutu suspected of favoring coexistence. Another narrator, a Tutsi woman, dies with most of her family in a graphically described slaughter at a Catholic church. One of her children, a boy, survives, and wanders the backroads of Rwanda, reduced to silence by the horrors (stacks of bodies, emptied villages, a river choked with thousands of corpses) that he witnesses. Pierce seems to place his hope for the future of Rwanda in the example of two his narrators, a young Hutu nurse who defies her people to save a Tutsi boy, and a Tutsi soldier who, after the Hutu army is driven out, resigns his commission to work with refugees from both tribes. The two become lovers, providing an example of a life free of the old tribal enmities. While the book offers a powerful portrait of a country coming unhinged, it may be that events in Rwanda were so unimaginably vicious that they can never be entirely explained. Pierce’s characters sometimes seem more emblems than individuals, and there are times when the plot and the need to introduce facts and figures don’t coalesce. Nonetheless, a heartfelt first effort, often quite moving and always instructive.

Pub Date: Aug. 5th, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-20367-5
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Picador
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1999


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