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We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda Paperback – September 4, 1999
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"Hutus kill Tutsis, then Tutsis kill Hutus--if that's really all there is to it, then no wonder we can't be bothered with it," Philip Gourevitch writes, imagining the response of somebody in a country far from the ethnic strife and mass killings of Rwanda. But the situation is not so simple, and in this complex and wrenching book, he explains why the Rwandan genocide should not be written off as just another tribal dispute.
The "stories" in this book's subtitle are both the author's, as he repeatedly visits this tiny country in an attempt to make sense of what has happened, and those of the people he interviews. These include a Tutsi doctor who has seen much of her family killed over decades of Tutsi oppression, a Schindleresque hotel manager who hid hundreds of refugees from certain death, and a Rwandan bishop who has been accused of supporting the slaughter of Tutsi schoolchildren, and can only answer these charges by saying, "What could I do?" Gourevitch, a staff writer for the New Yorker, describes Rwanda's history with remarkable clarity and documents the experience of tragedy with a sober grace. The reader will ask along with the author: Why does this happen? And why don't we bother to stop it? --Maria Dolan --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
From Publishers Weekly
What courage must it have required to research and write this book? And who will read such a ghastly chronicle? Gourevitch, who reported from Rwanda for the New Yorker, faces these questions up front: "The best reason I have come up with for looking more closely into Rwanda's stories is that ignoring them makes me even more uncomfortable about existence and my place in it." The stories are unrelentingly horrifying and filled with "the idiocy, the waste, the sheer wrongness" of one group of Rwandans (Hutus) methodically exterminating another (Tutsis). With 800,000 people killed in 100 days, Gourevitch found many numbed Rwandans who had lost whole families to the machete. He discovered a few admirable characters, including hotelier Paul Rusesabagina, who, "armed with nothing but a liquor cabinet, a phone line, an internationally famous address, and his spirit of resistance," managed to save refugees in his Hotel des Milles Collines in Kigali. General Paul Kagame, one of Gourevitch's main sources in the new government, offers another bleak and consistent voice of truth. But failure is everywhere. Gourevitch excoriates the French for supporting the Hutus for essentially racist reasons; the international relief agencies, which he characterizes as largely devoid of moral courage; and the surrounding countries that preyed on the millions of refugees?many fleeing the consequences of their part in the killings. As the Rwandans try to rebuild their lives while awaiting the slow-moving justice system, the careful yet passionate advocacy of reporters like Gourevitch serves to remind both Rwandans and others that genocide occurred in this decade while the world looked on.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
On the surface, "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families" is a graphic account of the 1994 genocide in which the "Hutu Power" government led its citizens to slaughter 800,000 of their Tutsi neighbors in only 100 days ... while the international community stood by and watched helplessly. In a greater sense, however, this is a story about how people imagine the world to be, and the terrible consequences that follow when they lose their humanity in trying to create such a world. It is about the nature of evil, and the power of forgiveness and justice to reclaim the future without forgetting the past.
This is a difficult and painful book to read, but not for the obvious reasons. The atrocities committed by the killers are brought to light in considerable detail, however Gourevitch does this in an almost semi-detached and dispassionate way. His real moral outrage seems to be reserved for the so-called "civilized" countries that could have stopped the genocide, but instead did nothing until it was too late ... and then compounded their foreign policy sins by aiding the Hutu murderers in refugee camps.
There is certainly plenty of blame to go around. Gourevitch provides extensive evidence that there were many warning signs of the impending massacres. He outlines the brief history of ethnic antagonisms that led to the crimes, and explains why the Clinton Administration, the United Nations (including current U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan), and the former colonial powers in Africa (such as France) all refused to intervene to halt the butchery. The French even took steps to keep it going. Gourevitch is particularly good at placing the genocide into a context that shows why our political leaders were too paralyzed to get involved and risk doing anything to save lives. Basically, it seems to come down to the fact that Rwanda has no oil, the victims were black, and the timing was all wrong (U.S. Rangers had just been shot to death and dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia only weeks earlier).
Putting aside the official excuses for inaction, though, perhaps the best thing about this book is how Gourevitch tells so much of his tale in the words of the Rwandans themselves--both those accused of condoning or participating in the violence, and those who suffered from it.
From Odette Nyiramilimo, a doctor who had several members of her immediate family killed, to Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who protected 1,000 or more Tutsis from harm by using a mixture of simple bravery and shrewd psychology, the writer has extracted narratives of extraordinary courage under even the most brutal conditions. He struggles not to judge pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, the clergyman who ignored his doomed ministers' pleas to be spared the carnage, but cannot conceal his admiration for Rwandese Patriotic Front Major General Paul Kagame, who eloquently said: "People are not inherently bad. But they can be made bad. And they can be taught to be good." Contrasted with the American military intelligence officer who cynically compared the genocide to a cheese sandwich (because nobody cares about either), it is easy to understand why Gourevitch holds Kagame in higher esteem.
"We Wish to Inform You ..." is not a perfect book. As others have noted, it really needs an index (or at least a glossary) to help the reader keep track of the various acronyms of organizations (for example, RPF, FAR, UNAMIR), characters (Major General Romero Dallaire, Rwandan ex-President Habyarimana, and USAID worker Bonaventure Nyibizi) and groups (such as the "interahamwe" Hutu Power militias).
Also, Gourevitch begins to lose his focus on the genocide in the second half of his story. He spends a lot of time and dozens of pages pursuing blind alleys about the misguided humanitarian relief efforts in the nearby Congolese refugee camps, and getting sidetracked with the downfall of Zairean President Mobutu Sese Seko. When the author returns to Rwanda, and explores how the new government there had to struggle to pull the nation together again, he is clearly back on firmer ground. His investigation into the problems faced by survivors of the genocide, being asked to live peacefully alongside their former tormentors, is especially moving.
The mass murder of the Tutsis in Rwanda occurred even more efficiently and ruthlessly than did the Nazi measures to impose a "final solution" on the Jews during the Holocaust in World War II. And yet, for all of the promises that the Western democracies uttered 50 years ago to "never again" permit the attempted extermination of an ethnic group anywhere else, it did ... and very recently, too. The rate at which the Hutus killed the Tutsis was truly sickening, but maybe the way it was allowed to happen should trouble us even more.
As Gourevitch points out in this fine book, which won the coveted George K. Polk Award for Foreign Reporting, the nightmare that gripped Rwanda in April 1994 went largely uncovered by the international press. Americans heard little about it. "We Wish to Inform You ..." may change that. It ranks up there with "Night" by Elie Wiesel and "Forgotten Soldier" by Guy Sajer as one of the most disturbing but inspirational tales of human savagery and individual nobility one is ever likely to read. In a self-absorbed pop culture that too often force feeds the public a steady diet of happy talk, "We Wish to Inform You ..." offers a strong dose of perspective, with a sobering reminder that we share this planet with other people who have real problems.
There is always a danger in taking action. There is always a cost in not taking it. Maybe next time, when faced with such a bloodbath, the world will show some of the same simple human decency as those Hutu girls who, when told to separate themselves from the Tutsis, "could have chosen to live, but chose instead to call themselves Rwandans."