A probing chronicle of the mass ethnic slaughter in Rwanda that raises questions about human survival and coexistence in that country and everywhere. In a period of 100 days during 1994, at least 800,000 Rwandans died in government-sanctioned mass killings. The government, dominated by Rwanda’s Hutu majority group, decided that it was necessary to rid the country of its Tutsi minority and called on its Hutu citizens to carry out this collective charge. Further slaughter ensued in a horrific aftermath, when victims and perpetrators found themselves together in Zairian refugee camps. Gourevitch, a regular writer for the New Yorker, responded to the Rwandan massacres both professionally and personally. As a child of Holocaust survivors, he felt himself relentlessly drawn to a country where T-shirts read “Genocide. Bury the dead, not the truth.— The result of Gourevitch’s repeated trips to Rwanda during and after the massacres is a book that is less a history lesson (though it is that, too) than a series of meditative essays on the deeper meanings of the Rwandan genocide. Gourevitch deftly weaves together historical background to the massacres (arguing against the oft-invoked theory of ancient rivalries), firsthand accounts of the killings, stories of survival and loss related by a handful of Rwandans, and cynical criticism of international agencies— handling of the situation. Without invoking Bosnia or multiethnic societies worldwide, Gourevitch shapes his discussion of Rwanda into a broader inquiry into human psychology and collective identity (“Genocide, after all, is an exercise in community building”). Despite the cruelty and injustice of the situation he describes, Gourevitch remains an optimist, closing with the courageous example of Hutu and Tutsi girls under attack who risked their lives by refusing to separate themselves by ethnicity. Gourevitch’s first book should be required reading for those seeking a better understanding of Rwanda’s massacres; it’s also a thoughtful investigation of ethnic conflict and its aftermath.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-374-28697-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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