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The Antelope's Strategy: Living in Rwanda after the Genocide

The Antelope's Strategy: Living in Rwanda after the Genocide

3.0 1
by Jean Hatzfeld, Linda Coverdale (Translator)

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One Hot May morning in 2003, a file of Hutus who had participated in the genocidal killings of April 1994 in Rwanda walked out of prison and into the sunshine, singing hallelujahs, their freedom granted by presidential pardon. As they turned to their old village. Tutsi survivors watched as the people who had killed their neighbors and families moved back to the


One Hot May morning in 2003, a file of Hutus who had participated in the genocidal killings of April 1994 in Rwanda walked out of prison and into the sunshine, singing hallelujahs, their freedom granted by presidential pardon. As they turned to their old village. Tutsi survivors watched as the people who had killed their neighbors and families moved back to the homes around them. In The Antelope's Strategy, Jean Hatzfeld returns to Rwanda to talk with both Hutus and Tutsis struggling to live side by side. We hear the voices of killers who have been released from prison or come back form exile, and Tutsi escapees who must now tolerate the killers as neighbors. How are they managing with the process of reconciliation? Is such a thing even possible? The enormously varied answers Hatzfeld gets suggest that little faith in true recovery survives among those who lived through the genocide. This is an astonishing exploration of the pain memory, the nature of stoic hope and the ineradicability of grief.

Editorial Reviews

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“Daring...Hatzfeld captures ordinary Rwandans at their most contemplative, working out the dilemma that will define the rest of their lives: How can survivors and killers share hilltops again?” —Jina Moore, The Christian Science Monitor

“Artfully written . . . a book that illustrates vividly the thorny realities that accompany survival and appeasement.” —Nora Krug, The Washington Post

“Harrowing . . . Hatzfeld tackles the hardest questions of justice and reparations; of why some are broken or fall into despair while others are able to find anew some peace of mind and pleasure in life.” —Anita Sethi, The Independent (UK)

“An amazing look at the reconciliation of evil and forgiveness.” —Vanessa Bush, Booklist

Nora Krug
Seven years after his reporting for Machete Season, Hatzfeld finds a much-changed Rwanda: The terrors of war have been replaced by an awkward—and sometimes dangerous—atmosphere of forced reconciliation…Hatzfeld captures this tension gracefully, weaving lengthy interview excerpts with his own artfully written observations. The result is a book that illustrates vividly the thorny realities that accompany survival and appeasement.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

The horrors of communal violence give way to quieter torments in this harrowing collection of oral histories. Hatzfeld revisits Tutsi survivors and confessed Hutu killers he interviewed in Life Laid Bare and Machete Season after the latter were unexpectedly released from prison and returned to their homes.. The official Rwandan policy of reconciliation holds: Hutu-Tutsi relations are civil, and one génocidaire even marries a Tutsi woman whose relatives were slaughtered. But to Hatzfeld, the survivors reveal inner scars-their unappeasable sense of grief, dispossession and mistrust of their neighbors, the fillip of fear whenever they encounter Hutu farmers carrying their machetes, the bitterness that justice has been sacrificed for national recovery. (Less anguished, the pardoned Hutu perpetrators express a diplomatic repentance and relief at having escaped retribution.) Hatzfeld includes nightmarish scenes from the genocide; survivors recall running for their lives for weeks on end, regressing to the status of game animals as Hutu hunting bands cut down their families and friends. Just as haunting is the spiritual aftermath: "A 'I believed in honorable effort, decent behavior, the straight and narrow path,'A " one Tutsi woman recalls, "A '[but] from now on, I'm suspicious of moral maxims.'A " (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
A searching companion to Liberation correspondent Hatzfeld's Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak (2005), recounting events in Rwanda 15 years after the spasm of ethnic violence that left untold dead in its wake. Scarcely anyone in Rwanda, Hutu or Tutsi, was not touched by the savagery that broke out when, in April 1994, Hutu militias began to slaughter Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Overwhelmingly, Hatzfeld finds the survivors psychologically broken and hollow, feeling as if they had been "betrayed by life-[and] who can bear that?" His account opens in 2003, with the specter of a thin, dusty, endless column of 40,000 men, freed from camps and penitentiaries after having served time for their role in the genocide. Some of the interned, one of their number reflects, were jubilant; others, denying any wrongdoing, were furious at having been imprisoned in the first place. All were faced with the problem of making new lives in public, among the relatives and families of those whom they had killed. Some respond with drink, some with silence, some with isolation and some with anger. Lest there be an explosion of wife-beating and violence after the amnesty, government workers counseled, "Remain calm with your guilty spouse, be peaceable with your neighbor, patient with those who are traumatized, obedient with the authorities. And don't delay in getting to work on clearing your overgrown fields." The advice, it seems, mainly took, and if few Rwandans seem happy and suspicions endure, most people seem to be slowly getting back to life as usual, even if, as one man tells Hatzfeld, "I'm afraid of dreams." Thanks to the work of Rwandans who insist on attaining justice-an arduous project, given theabsence of a fully functioning judiciary and the difficulty of finding "simple fairness" in the back-and-forth of accusation and defense-some measure of normality is at last attainable in that unfortunate country. A telling report and a substantive addition to the literature of humanitarian aid and ethnic violence.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

More Questions?

"When Satan offered the seven deadly sins to mankind, the African took gluttony and anger. I don't know whether he was the first to choose or the last. I don't know what the Whites or Asians snagged for themselves, either, because I haven't traveled through this world. But I do know that our choice will always work against us. Greed sows more strife and warfare across Africa than drought or ignorance. And in the mayhem, it managedto sow our thousand hills with genocide."

Pausing with a slow smile, as if to soften her words, Claudine Kayitesi adds, "I am content to be African, for otherwise I could not be content with anything. But proud—no. Can one be proud while feeling troubled? I am simply proud to be Tutsi, yes, absolutely, because the Tutsis were supposed to have disappeared from this earth and I am definitely still here."

When I had last visited Nyamata, Claudine had been living in a house that had once belonged to a female cousin, where she was caring for a swarm of local kids whom she had helped to rescue after their parents had been murdered in the genocide. Perched at the top of a steep path on the hill of Rugarama, the adobe house had deeply fissured walls and a rusty sheet-metal roof, but it nestled in a magnificent, sweet-smelling garden tended by Claudine's own hands. At the far end of the yard stood a shed for cooking pots and a pen for the calf.

In 2003, however, when the farmers who own the neighboring fields were released from the Rilima penitentiary, Claudine became anxious. One of the farmers was the murderer of her sister, and she feared coming face to face with him at night. She was therefore relieved to move to another plot of land with her new husband, Jean-Damascène, a former primary-school classmate, after a memorable wedding she describes like this:

"My husband and I, we met again two years ago. We exchanged friendly words to begin with, we saw each other in a new light at the New Year, we agreed on things in July. The wedding was a splendid affair: the singers led up to the ceremony robed in colorful pagnes, just as in photographs; I wore the three traditional dresses, and my husband's hands were formal in white gloves. The church offered us its courtyard and its tablecloths. Three vans carried the wedding party—with Fanta sodas, sorghum wine, and Primus beer, of course. The revelry lasted some three unbelievable days. Thanks to the wedding, time wears a kind face at present, but only at present. Because I see clearly that the future has already been eaten up by what I lived through."

Today, Claudine lives in a new house, one of dozens of identical houses in a mudugudu* on a rocky, brush-covered slope just above Nyamata's main road, a few kilometers from Kanzenze. When we arrive, she places a spray of artificial blossoms on the low table in the main room to set off the bouquets of real flowers, shoos a gang of curious kids from the courtyard, draws the curtains, and with a look of amusement sits down in one of the wooden armchairs.

"More questions?" she says in feigned astonishment. "Still about the killings. So you just can't stop. Why keep on? Why ask me? A person can feel uneasy, answering—and at fault from the very first line in the book. In the marshes, Tutsis lived like wild pigs. Drinking the blackish swamp water, grubbing on all fours for food in the night, relieving themselves in a frantic hurry. Worse, they lived as prey, as they told you, crawling in the slime, their ears pricked, waiting for the hunters' machetes. It was an unnatural hunt, because all this prey was meant to disappear without even being eaten. In a way, they experienced the battle between good and evil right before their eyes, stark and simple, so to speak.

"Myself, I would naturally think that good finally won out, since it gave me the chance to run away and survive, and now I'm well provided for. But the mama, papa, little sisters, and all the dying who whispered in the mud and who had no ears listening tenderly for their last words—they can't answer your questions anymore. All those chopped-up people who longed for a human breath of comfort, all those who knew they were leaving this earth bare naked because they'd been robbed of their clothes before the end, all the dead moldering away under the papyrus or drying up out in the sun—they've got no way to tell anyone they disagree."

Claudine has a painful secret, but she never complains of anything. Every morning she goes down with her husband to their field. At noon she lights the fire under the cooking pot. Afternoons she goes here and there, visiting her girlfriends, the church compound, Nyamata. She no longer demands reparations, and she has given up on justice. She avoids working with others, disdains all pretense, is not afraid to speak her mind. She makes no effort to hide her fears, her hatred of the killers, her envy of survivors who still have parents to welcome their grandchildren, or her frustration at having missed out on getting a nursing degree. In short, she says, "In difficult encounters I match evil looks with a straight-ahead stare"—evil looks that are in striking contrast to her cheerful face, her scarlet dresses, and the boisterousness of her two offspring, who are in constant orbit around her.

Grinning, she anticipates my question: "Yes, this calm is real. I have lovely children, a decently fertile field, a nice husband to help me along. A few years ago, after the killings, when you met me for the first time, I was a simple girl among scattered children, bereft of everything but drudgery and bad thoughts. And since then, this husband has turned me into a family lady in an unbelievable way. Courage tugs me by the hand every morning, even when I awaken from terrible dreams, or during the dry season. Life offers me its smiles, and I owe it my gratitude for not having abandoned me in the marshes.

"But for me, the chance to become someone is over. You will never hear answers from the real Claudine in response to your questions—because I'm no longer truly happy in my own skin. I've known the defilement of a bestial existence, I've witnessed the ferocity of the hyena and even worse—since animals are never that wicked. I was called a cockroach, as you know. I was raped by a savage creature. I was swept away to that place, out there, which no words of ours can ever match. But the worst walks on ahead of me. My heart will always look around suspiciously; I know so well now that destiny can break its simple promises.

"Good fortune has offered me a second life, and I won't push it away. But it will be half a life, because of the complete break. I was hunted by death, and I wanted to survive at any cost. Then, when I asked only to escape this world and the shame corroding my soul, I was plagued by fate.

"When I was a girl, I placed my trust in life with all my heart. Life betrayed me. To be betrayed by your neighbors, by the authorities, by the Whites—that is a staggering blow. It can make one behave badly. For example, a man turns to drink and refuses to take up the hoe, or a woman neglects her little ones and won't take care of herself anymore.

"But to be betrayed by life . . . who can bear that? It's too much. You lose all sense of where the right direction lies. Reason why, in the future, I will always stay one step to the side."

Copyright © 2007 by Éditions du Seuil
Published in March 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Meet the Author

Jean Hatzfeld, an international reporter for Libération since 1973, is the author of many books, including Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak (FSG, 2005). He lives in Paris.

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