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Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak

Overview

"To make the effort to understand what happened in Rwanda is a painful task that we have no right to shirk?it is part of being a moral adult."
?Susan Sontag

In the late 1990s, French author and journalist Jean Hatzfeld made several journeys into the hilly, marshy region of the Bugesera, one of the areas most devastated by the Rwandan genocide of April 1994, where an average of five out of six Tutsis were hacked to death with machete and spear by their Hutu neighbors and militiamen. In the villages of Nyamata and ...

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Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak

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Overview

"To make the effort to understand what happened in Rwanda is a painful task that we have no right to shirk–it is part of being a moral adult."
–Susan Sontag

In the late 1990s, French author and journalist Jean Hatzfeld made several journeys into the hilly, marshy region of the Bugesera, one of the areas most devastated by the Rwandan genocide of April 1994, where an average of five out of six Tutsis were hacked to death with machete and spear by their Hutu neighbors and militiamen. In the villages of Nyamata and N'tarama, Hatzfeld interviewed fourteen survivors of the genocide, from orphan teenage farmers to the local social worker. For years the survivors had lived in a muteness as enigmatic as the silence of those who survived the Nazi concentration camps. In Life Laid Bare, they speak for those who are no longer alive to speak for themselves; they tell of the deaths of family and friends in the churches and marshes to which they fled, and they attempt to account for the reasons behind the Tutsi extermination. For many of the survivors "life has broken down," while for others, it has "stopped," and still others say that it "absolutely must go on."

These horrific accounts of life at the very edge contrast with Hatzfeld's own sensitive and vivid descriptions of Rwanda's villages and countryside in peacetime. These voices of courage and resilience exemplify the indomitable human spirit, and they remind us of our own moral responsibility to bear witness to these atrocities and to never forget what can come to pass again. Winner of the Prix France Culture and the Prix Pierre Mille, Life Laid Bare allows us, in the author's own words, "to draw as close as we can get to the Rwandan genocide."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Dave Eggers, author of What Is the What

“Jean Hatzfeld's Machete Season, wherein the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide spoke about their crimes, was an astonishing feat of reportage and oral history. Life Laid Bare, which allows the victims to speak, is an even greater achievement—a book so elegantly wrought, so unexpected and revelatory, that it's absolutely essential reading in understanding what happened in Rwanda, how the survivors of genocide find a way to begin again while never forgetting to bear witness. As Marie-Lousie Kagoyire, one of the narrators says, ‘[S]howing our hearts to a stranger, talking about how we feel, laying bare our feelings as survivors, that shocks us beyond measure.’”

Publishers Weekly

French journalist and war correspondent Hatzfeld offers brief, pithy accounts of 14 survivors of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, in which 10,000 Tutsis seeking refuge in churches were slaughtered by machete-wielding Hutus...Even though each account tells the same harrowing story, each voice is unique. Bringing cumulative power to what, in lesser hands, might have been a random collection of historical accounts, Hatzfeld's wrenching collection compels an active response to the genocides occurring today.

Booklist

For each of the 14 interviewed today, Hatfeld fills in the background and provides a black-and-white photo. Those photos, accompanied by the clear personal voices, break your heart. The daily struggle with survivor guilt and outsiders’ indifference is part of a constant connection with the Holocaust.

Kirkus Reviews

As he did in Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak (2005), journalist Hatzfeld provides informative introductions to each chapter but allows his subjects to speak for themselves. The collection’s devastating power comes from the no-holds-barred narratives, with additional kudos to translator Coverdale for rendering their words in spare, haunting English....Hatzfeld is to be commended for helping to preserve crucial eyewitness testimony and for sharing it with what one hopes will be a very large audience.

Publishers Weekly

French journalist and war correspondent Hatzfeld offers brief, pithy accounts of 14 survivors of the three-day Rwandan genocide of 1994, in which 10,000 Tutsis seeking refuge in churches were slaughtered by machete-wielding Hutus. The survivors describe both devastation, as "neighbors with whom [they] used to chat" became executioners, and the degradation of later being marginalized by Rwandan society. Announcing their presence with "whistles and songs," the Hutu killers arrived regularly in the morning and left in the late afternoon, their violent sprees corresponding with victims' efforts to "hide the children in small groups under the papyrus" at sunrise, and to emerge from hiding places in the marsh "when the killers had finished their work" at sunset. Even though each account tells the same harrowing story, each voice is unique. Bringing cumulative power to what, in lesser hands, might have been a random collection of historical accounts, Hatzfeld's wrenching collection compels an active response to the genocides occurring today. (Nov.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Arresting firsthand accounts of the 1994 Rwandan genocide from 14 men, women and children who survived the weeks of slaughter. As he did in Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak (2005), journalist Hatzfeld provides informative introductions to each chapter but allows his subjects to speak for themselves. The collection's devastating power comes from the no-holds-barred narratives, with additional kudos to translator Coverdale for rendering their words in spare, haunting English. Beer helped save his life, declares Rwililiza. The Hutus rewarded themselves with countless drinks after a day of killing, he explains; on each successive morning, they were more hung over and less effective as murderers. Although Rwililiza is a teacher, he somberly asserts that education does not necessarily prevent genocide-rather, it may make killers "more efficient." Christine Nyiransabimana, who was in fifth grade when the war began, offers the painful perspective of a mixed-race child. Her Tutsi father was cut down with a machete in front of his Hutu wife, and Christine was threatened because of her Tutsi blood. Angelique Mukamanzi, now 25, is perhaps the most memorable informant here, speaking with subtle psychological insight about why some survivors change the details of their experience with each retelling. Mukamanzi discusses a neighbor who initially insisted that her mother died inside the church at N'tarama, but later said that the death occurred while they were hiding in a marsh. "To me, there is no lie," she says. "Maybe [the daughter] had abandoned her while running through the marsh and felt bad about that." The details may change, but for the Rwandan survivors, the memories themselves willnever disappear. Hatzfeld is to be commended for helping to preserve crucial eyewitness testimony and for sharing it with what one hopes will be a very large audience.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590512739
  • Publisher: Other Press, LLC
  • Publication date: 11/13/2007
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 665,692
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.75 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

Jean Hatzfeld
Jean Hatzfeld, an international reporter for Libération since 1973, is the author of many books, including two on the war in Croatia and Bosnia and Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak, winner of the Prix Joseph Kessel. He lives in Paris.

Linda Coverdale
Linda Coverdale has a Ph.D. in French, is a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and is the award-winning translator of almost fifty books. Her most recent honor is the 2006 Scott Moncrieff Prize for Jean Hatzfeld’s Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak.

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