Nonfiction — print. Picador, 1998. 356 pgs. Library copy.
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the long title is derived from a letter Tutsi victims of the Rwandan Genocide sent to their beloved pastor begging for him to intervene on their behalf. Little did they know, this pastor was actually participating in the Hutu-led genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda, helping to organize the murder of those who looked to him for spiritual guidance.
In April 1994, the Rwandan government called upon everyone in the Hutu majority to kill each member of the Tutsi minority. Over the next three months, between 800,000 and one million Tutsis were murdered. It’s a genocide I knew very little about before reading this book, and I was looking for Gourevitch to fill in the very large
gaps holes in my knowledge.
Despite the subject matter, this book is absolutely spellbinding. Too often books dealing with genocide get bogged down in statistics or numbers, but Gourevitch writes in such a way that the history of Rwanda and of the genocide are presented through the experiences of individuals or families or communities.
Of particular interest to me was the role the international community did (or did not) play in the genocide. The division of Rwandans along the lines of Hutus and Tutsis is contributed to Belgium’s colonial rule of the country. During the genocide, however, the international community and the United Nations turned its backed on the African nation in large part due to the insistence of the United States, according to Gourevitch.
“[Christine] Shelley [a State Department spokeswoman] was a bit more to the point when she rejected the denomination of genocide, because, she said, ‘there are obligations which arise in connection with the use of the term [genocide].’ She meant that if it was a genocide, the Convention of 1948 required the contracting parties to act. Washington didn’t want to act. So Washington pretended that it wasn’t a genocide. Still, assuming that the above exchange took about two minutes, an average of eleven Tutsis were exterminated in Rwanda while it transpired.” (pg. 153)
US President Bill Clinton claimed to have not fully understood the severity of the situation, and at the end of the book Gourevitch put into context Clinton’s apology to Rwandans in 1998. He also goes on to explain the rise of the “double genocides” theory, which accuses the Tutsis of engaging in a “counter-genocide” against the Hutus, and how international aid agencies turned their backs on the Tutsis in their rush to prevent “counter-genocide”, to protect the rights of the accused.
I was drawn into the first and last thirds of the book more than the second third, but the whole book is worth a read.