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Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak Hardcover – May 19, 2005

51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This book features the testimony of 10 friends from the same village who spent day after day together, fulfilling orders to kill any Tutsi within their territory during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. While their anecdotes are shocking at first, they detail how an ordinary person with an everyday life in a farming village can be transformed into a killer. As one man explains, "if you must obey the orders of authorities, if you have been properly prepared, if you see yourself pushed and pulled, if you see the killing will be total and without disastrous consequences for yourself, you feel soothed and reassured." A reporter for Paris's Libération, Hatzfeld has a remarkable ability to pry into the killer's memory and conscience. One Hutu tells how "a pain pinched his heart" when confronted with an old Tutsi soccer teammate he was obligated to kill. Others describe the regrets or nightmares they have now that the genocide is over (and they are in prison). But for the most part, the interviews reveal the killers' naïve expectations for forgiveness and reconciliation once they are released. Hatzfeld offers an analysis of the psychology of the perpetrators and how the Rwandan genocide differs from other genocides in history. Steering clear of politics, this important book succeeds in offering the reader some grasp of how such unspeakable acts unfolded. Agent, Valerie Borchardt at Georges Borchardt Inc.(June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

French journalist Hatzfeld, the author of several books on war atrocities, offers a close-up look at the thoughts, motivations, and regrets of 10 of the Hutu killers who participated in the slaughter of their Tutsi neighbors. An estimated 500,000 Tutsis were murdered in May and April of 1994 when ethnic tensions were whipped into a frenzy following the death of Rwandan president Juvenal Habayarima, a Hutu. Now imprisoned for their participation in the slaughter, the 10 men Hatzfeld interviewed offer incredible accounts of how they moved from ordinary lives, albeit ones filled with simmering tensions with their Tutsi neighbors, to the ragtag army employed to kill with machetes. Some recall the coercion needed to secure their participation, while others were eager for the task. Many recall the methodical nature of the slaughter and the bloodthirstiness of some of their compatriots as they made sure that no man, woman, or child was spared. A killer recalls looking into the eyes of his victims and the stares that will haunt him for the rest of his life. Chilling and thoroughly absorbing. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (June 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374280827
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374280826
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #400,344 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 87 people found the following review helpful By David Evans VINE VOICE on October 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In Susan Sontag's powerful preface, she argues that "everyone should read Hatzfeld's book" in order to truly understand what happened in Rwanda. The most striking revelation that emerges from these interviews with Hutu farmers-turned-killers from the Rwandan genocide is that they don't really know why it happened; they were swept up in the crowd. Not swept up once, but day after day for months of arduous hunting and killing. While the farmers mention other motives (looting, old animosities), the repeated claim is that the organizers were responsible and that farmers like them just got caught up.

While the book grants some real perspective, and I'm glad that I read it, I have two major criticisms: Hatzfeld could definitely have fixed one and perhaps not the other. First, the book is choppy. Hatzfeld interviewed the Hutu killers in a Rwandan prison, and he interviewed with each one individually. However, the book is organized by themes, so the author presents a chapter entitled "The First Time" and there includes a couple of paragraphs from each prisoner describing their first killing. While this gives effectively expresses the variety of experiences, constantly jumping back and forth between the ten interviewees leaves the reader little opportunity to get to know any of them. Uninterrupted histories from each prisoner (a la Studs Terkel) would have allowed more of an opportunity to get to know each and understand them better as people.

Second, the prisoners seem so guarded that it is unclear how often we are hearing genuine insights. Of course we would expect these prisoners to be guarded, not wanting to risk damaging their chances of clemency.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By J. Reader, Indianapolis on July 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I visited Rwanda twice after the genocide, and I've read quite a bit of the history behind the 1994 killings, but this is the first detailed account I've read from the killers' perspective. The author interviewed 10 Hutu men convicted for their involvement in the genocide--all friends from the same community. Hatzfeld organizes his short chapters by topic--such as How It Was Organized, The First Time (their first victims), Looting, etc--and devotes considerable space to verbatim transcripts from his interviews. Machete Season reveals how nearly every Hutu man in one community joined, either willingly or through coercion, in hunting down and killing every Tutsi man, woman and child. The book explores what the men were thinking and feeling at the time of the killings and how they feel now about guilt, repentance and forgiveness.

The book is not as graphic as others I've read, but there are new horrors here, such as the fact that the men continually refer to the killings as "work," and even today they seem to have almost no empathy for their victims and survivors. For most, confession and seeking forgiveness from survivors seem to be merely the means to get out of prison as quickly as possible.

One killer told Hatzfeld, "I think the possibility of genocide fell out as it did because it was lying in wait--for time's signal, like the plane crash, to nudge it at the last moment. There was never any need to talk about it among ourselves. ... We knew full well what had to be done, and we set to doing it without flinching, because it seemed like the perfect solution." After reading this book, I was left believing that all the evil that came out in 1994 is still there, lying dormant.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By M. Hron on May 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is simply an AMAZING -- yet horrifingly stomach-churning --collection of testimonials by killers of Rwanda from the rural region of Nyamata. And like Sontag points out in her intro, "every one should read this book."

There have been innumerable books and documentaries of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda -- a highly controversial, long-obfuscated and often-misunderstood atrocity... However, very few of these accounts relate the actual perspectives or testimonials by ordinary Rwandans. Though several survivors have actually written testimonials of their experience, not one of them has yet been translated into English!!(eg. Yolande Makagasana's memoir in French), once again revealing the shameful Western ethnocentric attitude to this atrocity (Imagine for example if available accounts of Holocaust survivors had never been translated from German!) Hatzfeld's collection of testimonials therefore offers us a perspective that is completely lacking in the morass of publications about Rwanda, many of them written by journalists, academics or political attachees, who spent less than a month in the field in Rwanda... (And of course, who stayed at fancy White accomodations like the revamped Hotel Milles Collines during their visit... ) It offers a crucial and critical intervention necessary for understanding the human impact of the genocide in Rwanda...

Moreover, in this collection Hatzfeld presents us with the perspective of the KILLERS during the genocide. Imagine if the Holocaust was recounted from the perspective of the Gestapo or concentration camp personnel! Simply RIVETING reading.

In the complementary reading "Into the Quick of Life," Hatzfeld offers us survivors' perspectives. Instead of focusing on great saviours (eg.
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