Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
The Mille-Collines Hotel is hub to the Rwandan elite: Aid workers, diplomats, and other central figures in the disrupted African country pass important days and nights there in the care of bartenders, waitresses, and prostitutes. Bernard Valcourt, a Canadian widower producing a film about the AIDS epidemic, has arrived at the height of Rwanda's civil unrest, and is bewitched by a young Hutu girl, Gentille. When Gentille discovers that Bernard's attraction to her is deeper than lust, the two begin a life-changing affair in a country where sex and death go hand in hand. But as the couple prepare to be married, Rwanda erupts in unmitigated violence. Attempting to flee, the two are separated, leaving Valcourt frantic to find his lover.
Valcourt's search uncovers unspeakable atrocities -- Rwanda itself appears to have been ravished. His hope nearly extinguished as he seeks the truth about Gentille, Valcourt's account of this country's gruesome history is almost beyond comprehension. A fluent foray into the plight of Rwanda, Courtemanche's imagery -- often delightful, sometimes chilling -- is richly descriptive, conveying a challenging story with naked realism and appropriate compassion that refuses to capitulate to sentimentality. A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali is a gripping story of a love built against the odds that drives steadily to a startling conclusion, revealing a writer with a conscience and a novel that demands to be read.
(Fall 2003 Selection)
A well-observed...haunting, graceful book.Janet Maslin
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. (Oct. 14) Forecast: The best book on the Rwanda genocide is still Philip Gourevitch's nonfiction work We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families, but Courtemanche's novel should stimulate lively debate and serve as useful supplementary reading. Rights have been sold in 13 countries, and movie production is underway with Lyla Films. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Rwanda in the 1990s is as daunting a setting for a novel as one could choose, but Canadian journalist Courtemanche uses his time there to craft a compelling examination of humanity's heart of darkness. Through the eyes of his alter ego, Bernard Valcourt, we are given tribal genocide, murder, rape, and intentional HIV infection in unsparing detail. Valcourt falls in love with a young Rwandan he meets at his hotel's swimming pool, and their troubled plight drives the plot through a landscape of chaos. Though this is fiction, Courtemanche sticks to the public record, depicting the Hutu-led brutality against the Tutsi in a simultaneously frenzied and mundane manner. Sex and death are so entwined that a dying man's mother encourages a young woman to gratify him sexually before he passes, and in another scene a man rejoices when he finds out he will be executed after having sex with his wife in front of his tormentors. Despite the horror, there are parallel, if less frequent, moments of camaraderie, compassion, and selfless love. Winner of Canada's Prix des libraires du Qu bec in 2000, this book is recommended for all public and academic libraries.-Edward Keane, Long Island Univ. Lib., Brooklyn Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Debut fiction by French-Canadian journalist Courtemanche tells of star-crossed lovers caught in the maelstrom of Rwanda's 1994 civil war. Most North Americans had never heard of Rwanda before the country erupted into violence and genocide in the early 1990s, so Courtemanche has to spend a fair amount of time sketching in the background to his tale. A tiny African country nestled between Tanzania, Uganda, and the Congo on the shores of Lake Kivu, Rwanda was once a Belgian colony but has been independent since 1962. Its populace is overwhelmingly Hutu, but those of the minority Tutsi tribe have traditionally formed a kind of aristocracy and were greatly favored by the Belgians (who entrusted much of the colonial administration to them). The author writes from the perspective of a French-Canadian journalist named Bernard Valcourt. Sent to the Rwandan capital of Kigali to set up a TV station, Bernard falls in love with Gentille, a strikingly beautiful young waitress at his hotel. A Hutu of mixed ancestry (her great-grandfather purposefully arranged marriages for his children to Tutsis so that their descendants could "pass"), Gentille now suffers discrimination from the Hutus on account of her Tutsi features. But this is more than a story of confused loyalties: The Rwandan government is teetering on collapse (partly because of rumors that the Hutu president is dying if AIDS), and the authorities plot to avert a coup by fomenting a pogrom of the Tutsis. You know the rest from the headlines. Bernard, caught in the thick of it, abandons his journalist's scent for chaos and tries to flee the country with Gentille, who is almost certain to be massacred if she stays behind. A finely textured accountthat manages to infuse private adventures and travails with the true depth and weight of history. Film rights to [Montreal-based] Lylla Films
“Haunting, graceful . . . with a journalist’s unblinking eye and an appreciation of bitter irony.” —The New York Times
“Harrowing, cinematic. . . . Styled after Conrad, Camus, and Greene . . . it gets to you, slithers into your dreams like the original snake in the Edenic hill country of central Africa.” —Elle
“[A] wonderfully rich portrait of fear and love in the face of atrocity . . . chillingly evocative . . . This land of the dying comes alive.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Harrrowing. . . . A brilliant book full of rage and sorrow.” The Baltimore Sun
“Remarkable. . . . Courtemanche . . . [uses] fiction’s unique capacity to imaginatively adopt the viewpoints of others to show us the reality of what happened in Rwanda more intimately than journalism ever could. . . . One cannot consider one’s awareness of the Rwanda Genocide sufficiently profound without reading this book.” —Washington Post
“The novel of the year. . . . A fresco with humanist accents which could easily find a place next to the works of Albert Camus and Graham Greene.” —La Presse
“Astonishing. . . . Moving, comic and horrifying all at once. . . . Courtemanche’s novel conveys the pressure of lived experience very powerfully; yet at the same time experience is clearly meditated by a sophisticated literary imagination. . . . The first great novel of the catastrophe that befell the country.” —The Guardian
“Compelling. . . . [Like] a report from the front lines. . . . Courtemanche, like his journalist hero, keeps the memory of [the Rwandan genocide] alive with his words.” —Boston Globe
“This is where Courtemanche is most powerful: he’s not afraid to question morality, nor to reveal the human condition in all its heinous inhumanity. The story is intense and gut-wrenching . . . poetic and disquieting.” —The Observer
“Illuminating and horrifying, compassionate and scathing. . . . Despite the harrowing subject matter of the novel, Courtemanche sustains a composed narrative voice of grim detachment. The effect is chilling.” —Times Literary Supplement
“Evokes humanity in all its depth and breadth. . . . Through a felicitous mix of reportage and fiction, Courtemanche has powerfully portrayed a lucid character deeply engaged in a humanist quest.” —Le Journal de Montreal
“Powerful. . . . Written with brutal earthiness and a tender, sensual transcendence.” —Toronto Globe & Mail
“Excellent. . . .Urgent and nervewrackingly ominous, with a surprisingly boisterous humour but, mostly, it leaves a numb shock.” –Financial Times
“This novel is not only powerful and beautifully written. Corrosive, denunciatory, A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali also evokes the powerlessness and the complicity that permitted the [Rwandan] massacre to take place.” —Le Devoir