Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Books about Rwanda History and Natural Wonders

There's a lot of material now available about Rwanda, and I tried to read a large number of the works.  There are other books of value that I did not have a chance to read before my trip.

1.  In the Kingdom of Gorillas (Weber and Vedder).  An entertaining, if long, book on the history of conservation efforts of the gorillas from two people who worked with Dian Fossey.  It is a personal account of a married couple, and it contains a wealth of information and is well written.  Kingdom has been recognized as a leading work on conservation efforts.  It's well written.  I think if you are going to the gorillas, this book gives you important context for the conservation efforts and its impact.  It also discusses Nyungwe Forest.

2.  Rwanda and Genocide in the Twenthieth Century (Destexhe).  This book is 75 pages long, so if you are not a reader, don't have time, or find everything too painful, this is the book.  It blows me away that this was published a year after the genocide, since this guy nails so much of the big picture and importance of the genocide.  In such a short account, published immediately afterwards, the author captures so much of the essential points and political-historical context.  It's amazing for that reason, but again it is a very accessible, cogent analysis.

3.  We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Familes (Gourevitch).  A terrific, moving account of the genocide that I read when it was published in 1998 and initiated my strong interest in Rwanda.  (I think that Jews, like me, have a special responsibility in this regard.)  Probably the best known, essential account.  Terribly painful to read.  An essential work.

4.  I'm Not Leaving (Wilkens).  Carl Wilkens was the lone American to remain in the country during the genocide.  I wasn't aware of his work until I saw him speak at a genocide memorial conference I attended this past spring.  It doesn't give a powerful overview, but rather presents a powerful, bottom-up account of being a mzunga living through the genocide.  Wilkens is one of the two great White heroes of the events during the genocide (with Gen. Romeo Dallaire being the other).  Not a great work of literature/publishing, but I'm so grateful to Wilkens to representing the best instincts of the West, of Christianity (I'm Jewish), and of humanity and compassion.

5.  Shake Hands with the Devil (Dallaire).  The autobiography of Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, head of the UNAMIR forces in Rwanda during the genocide.  This was a much better book than I expected.  It is very well written, and the story is poignant and incredibly frustrating.  Dallaire does not try to settle scores in this account, and he is a great man who faced tragic circumstances.  Wracked by guilt and the burden thereafter, Dallaire has tried to commit suicide.  As with Wilkens, Dallaire and his key staff (Maj. Brent Beardsley) represent the only bright spots for the West during the genocide.  Very well done and worthwhile, albeit a long account.  This is not a self-serving account, and I'm glad that I read it.

6.  Season of Blood (Keane).  A very well regarded account by a British journalist who was on the ground.  I thought this was OK, but frankly given its strong reviews I was a bit disappointed in this. 

7.  Me Against My Brother (Peterson).  I only read the introduction and the chapters on Rwanda (not on Somalia and Sudan).  This is another journalist who was on the ground during the genocide.  I liked this very much.  I prefer this to Season of Blood.  Trying to come to grips with what the eye is seeing and the incomprehensibility of it all is well told.  A personal account by a journalist but I think this was very worthwhile.

8.  A Thousand Hills:  Rwanda's Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It (Kinzer).  This is a biography of Paul Kagame, who is President of Rwanda today.  I think that Kagame is one of the two greatest people on the planet Earth (Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dali Lama being the other); I personally rank Kagame ahead of Mandela and Obama.  With that disclosure, you can understand how anything other than one of the great biographies of all time would be disappointing to me.  Kinzer's account is  very useful.  It is interesting and insightful, and appropriately is not the hagiagraphy I engage in.  I give this book a grade of "B".  Kagame deserves, however, an A+ biography.  That noted, I think it is important to understand how the English speaking, Uganda based, Tutsi forces and now the power in the post-genocide period returned to their homeland, which was French speaking and France-oriented before the genocide.

9.  A People Betrayed:  The Role of the West in Rwanda's Genocide (Melvern).  This is a terrifically documented account of the failure of the West.  Melvern provides a balanced, factual account that is well written and causes one to cringe often at the stupidity, cupidity, and ignorance of the West.  A great global overview.

10.  Consipracy to Murder:  The Rwandan Genocide (Melvern).  A companion work to A People Betrayed and this goes into greater detail of the internal machinations and planning within Rwanda to pursue genocide as a strategy.  A good book, but not necessary for the basic tourist.

11.  The Antelope's Strategy (Hatzfeld).  The author has published three books containing accounts about the genocide.  This is the only one I've read.  It is a compelling account of survival and adjustment post-genocide in the area around Nyamata.  I think this is a very useful book to ground one's understanding of the incomprehensibility of living through the genocide as a Tutsi and the complete strangeness of trying to live peaceably together in post-genocide Rwanda.  This is done with great sensitivity, using mainly quoted accounts from participants not unduly mediated by the author.  I'm very glad I read this.

12.  Journey into Darkness (Odom).  Only about one-third of this book really focuses on the genocide and refugee crisis.  It offers a good perspective  from a US military officer (and is his autobiography).  Definitely not a necessary work for the tourist, but I was especially pleased to learn that Susan Rice, the current US representative at the UN, performed well during the genocide, which is not something I had read in other accounts. 

13.  Genocide in Rwanda:  A Collective Memory (Berry eds.) This is mainly an academic oriented collecting a number of essays.  Not necessary.

14.  Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa (Stearns).  This is a book about the "world war" in the Great Lakes Region and the modern history of the wars in Congo.  Rwanda was forced to invade Congo which had provided a haven for the genocidaires after 1994 and threatened its stability.  I think it is very important to understand Rwanda and the Congo, which is the subject of present news reports in the north Kivu region.  During my trip, I visited a UN refugee camp for refugees from the Congo in South Kivu.  I was surprised that this book was not more critical of Rwanda and Paul Kagame (not that I think that is so much justified but a book from the lens of the Congo certainly could try to place a lot of blame on Rwanda).  Again, this book is really about Congo, and it is a readible, nuanced account of the forces in the Congo today and gives a perspective of why and what Rwanda has done since 1994 in its vastly larger neighbor to the east.

15.  Leave None to Tell the Story:  Genocide in Rwanda (Desforges, available online through Human Rights Watch).  This is virtually a blow-by-blow, hill-by-hill account of the genocide.  I was reluctant to read this because I think (with respect) that Human Rights Watch has been quite off-kilter about Rwanda over the past decade.  But this work is different.  It is a comrprehensive, documented account of the events during the genocide.  It is of more academic use (or for the complete-ist), and it is not necessary for the tourist compared to some of the other accounts.  This is not to deny that this is an incredibly important work that is extraordinary in its ability to drill down and document the terrible crimes of the genocide.

16.  The Silence (Peress).  This is a collection of photos of the suffering during and following the genocide.  It's as comprehensive a photographic account as exists, but it is not essential (especially given that it is difficult to track down and expensive to purchase).  Because the book is filled with static images, in some ways the book does not capture the flavor (in my opinion) of the genocide. 

17. Left to Tell (Ilibagiza).  This personal account of survival, largely in a tiny bathroom with other women, is well known and popular.  Ms. Iligagiza has emerged as an important, post-genocide, Christian voice.  The prose is easy to read, even if the story is painful.  18.
Deogratias, A Tale of Rwanda
This is a graphic novel about losing one's mind through the horrific experience of the genocide against the Tutis. I am a huge fan of the graphic-novel format, but think this one is merely ok. 19.  Other Books to Consider for Perspective:  The book King Leopold's Ghost is a fantastic account of the Belgian Congo, but doesn't involve the history of Rwanda.  Likewise, is In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz. I have not read The Zanzibar Chest (Hartley) which I am told has some coverage of Rwanda.  I thought "Exterminate All the Brutes" (Lindqvist) provided a cogent account of how Europeans conceived of Africa, but doesn't discuss Rwanda but does address the idea of genocide (but I note that Lindqvist's more important and interesting book is A History of Bombing).  I have not read the novel, The Optimists (Miller), which divides the critics and I can't decide whether to read, but it takes off on ideas about the Rwanda genocide against the Tutsi.  The famous and important (now deceased) Polish foreign correspondent, Ryszard Kapuscinski, has an insightful book about "Africa" in general (to the extent one is permitted to generalize) called The Shadow of the Sun, which I think helps Westerners understand sub-Saharan Africans in general, though not the particular issues confronting Rwandans.  Kapuscinski's most wonderful book, The Emperor, is about Ethiopia, and I often recommend as an amazing book though not relevant to Rwanda.  The book, The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Never Forgets (Rice) is about Uganda, but helps provide some perspective on Paul Kagame who grew up after age 3 in Uganda and participated in the revolt of Yoweri Museveni, whose ideology plainly shaped Kagame's perspective.  (And since this is highly personal list, I note that I hated Norman Rush's Mating, which concerns Botswana.)  I'd like to plug my friend, Tony Eprile who is a South African expatriate whose books include Temporary Soujourner and The Persistence of Memory; Tony is encyclopedic and incisive about African literature in general.

No comments:

Post a Comment