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A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali Paperback – October 12, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Bernard Valcourt is a Canadian journalist in Rwanda planning a film on the local AIDS epidemic when he falls in love with Gentille, a Tutsi who works at his hotel at the time of the Hutu-led genocides. Chronicling the days of the government-sponsored atrocities, Courtemanche's novel is powerful in its ability to remind us how much the myth of race has done to divide and destroy the human species in the past hundred years. At the same time, however, it strains to position itself as a sort of neo-existentialist tome, quoting Camus and echoing The Plague. Valcourt describes himself without irony as "sophisticated... an enlightened humanist," and yet his childish self-pity and bitter refusal to accept life's harsh realities are less the trappings of a great intellectual than the alcoholic he obviously is. From the swimming pool terrace of the H"tel des Mille-Collines in Kigali, he observes the rapidly deteriorating situation, "rather like a buzzard on a branch... waiting for a scrap of life to excite him." His supposedly spiritual love for Gentille is intended to redeem him, but it most often takes the form of a rhapsody over her "perfect" body. The Rwanda painted by Courtemanche (a Canadian journalist himself) is a country bloodied by ignorance, hatred, sexual obsession and lust for power, as terrifying and darkly obscene as anything imaginable. Tragic and deeply touching at turns (and illuminating from an historical perspective), the novel is nevertheless cheapened by Valcourt's muddled sentimentalizing and adolescent grandiloquence. As Einstein said, everything is either meaningless or miraculous. Most often it's romantics who, becoming cynics, embrace the former.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
In recounting the 1994 massacre of Rwanda's Tutsis by the majority Hutus, Courtemanche fictionalizes the thoughts and actions of real participants, but the horrors he describes were all too real. At the story's center lies the improbable love that blossoms between Canadian journalist Bernard Valcourt and Gentille, a shy Hutu waitress at Kigali's Mille-Collines Hotel. Valcourt and Gentille speak out against the brutal attacks that presage the genocide but make no headway with corrupt police, impotent UN forces, oblivious Western media outlets, and postcolonial Belgians and French who helped sow the seeds of racial superiority in Rwanda and then retreated when they bore deadly fruit. It's a powerful political novel about important world issues, which hardly ensures an audience here. As Valcourt notes, "In my country the sickness is complacency. In France it's arrogance, and in the United States it's ignorance." That this book would introduce many U.S. readers to events that killed some 800,000 people underscores how fatal our willful ignorance of foreign affairs can be to the world's powerless. Frank Sennett
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Necessarily, it is filled with barbaric violence, committed on a wide scale, mainly in face-to-face encounters with machetes, knives and clubs. The novel also depicts a number of graphic, horrifying accounts of the sexual violence which accompanied the genocide, and no doubt this too belongs in this novel.
Courtemanche, however, takes an artistic stand toward love (and sex) and death, which again, considering the subject matter, is probably appropriate, although at times, particularly the protracted death of Gentille, hovers above a strange nexus. Would a woman undergoing a sexual assault think the thoughts that Courtemanche places in her head? I don’t know; the subjective fixation of this novel, its keen eye on the existential issues of sex and death and violence, preclude an easy answer. But many times it seems the author is off the mark and well into the domain of gratuitous expression. Women are treated as bodies to either love or abuse.
This is an unsettling novel, written in an odd register, with concerns and fixations that are both mundane and odd. At times it reads like an extended political book, with long speeches, at others, it is painfully naturalistic. The result is mixed, not extremely satisfying, and off-kilter.
On the other hand, much of the material I did not associate with the film verged on the prurient or scatological. Much of what rose above this level eventually depressed, because it addressed like an obsession the detail, the consequences and the pathology of AIDS. The doubly unfortunate truth about the last two sentences is that the book probably, in its excesses, under-states the reality.
An enduring memory is a character, a visitor to Rwanda, seeing what he takes to be a cultivated hillside and then praising effusively the presence of agriculture in the centre of town A moment later he is introduced to reality by his host who confirmed that the excavation was a cemetery to cultivate the profusions of corpses produced by AIDS. The scenes of genocide that follow can only match the horror of what went before.
At the core of the book is the relationship between Valcourt and Gentille. He is Canadian, a journalist film-maker, who seems at home in Rwanda's tribulations. Gentile is a woman of virtue, a virtue she plies with ease. She looks like a Tutsi, but is a Hutu.
In some ways their relationship mirrors the colonial heritage that at least exacerbated, if perhaps not actually caused the potential for ethnic conflict that eventually ignited so disastrously. But A Sunday At The Pool In Kigali points to social divisions in an apparently valueless community that sees other people, both collectively and individually, merely as the exploitable given form. There's not a lot of joy here, even in the book's copious sex that seems, anaesthetised, to dominate much of the text.
But overall there is little to uplift in the book. Almost no-one offers love or compassion. An almost unrelenting torrent of cynicism, abuse, persecution and social degeneration floods from every page. It is a portrait of an almost uncompromisingly ugly and abhorrent experience. The book is thus an often one-paced, one-dimensional read. The problem, unfortunately, is that it might be accurate.
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Biography - Courtemanche, Gil (1943-): An article from: Contemporary Authors OnlineRead more