Living, speaking, side by side (Rwanda 4)

(To conclude the series on Jean Hatzfeld’s books on the Rwandan genocide.)

In the Nyamata district of Rwanda, many Tutsis trying to escape Hutu killers during the Rwandan genocide of 1994 hid in the mud and foliage of papyrus swamps. Those who fled to the much less dense Kayumba forest had to rely on running for their lives. Said one,

When the killers seemed to be upon us, we’d scatter in all directions to give everyone a chance: basically, we adopted the antelope’s strategy.

In this his third book on the genocide, French journalist Jean Hatzfeld adopts some of that same “scattering” strategy to give us a sense of what life is like now, some 15 years later, for both survivors and perpetrators, once again occupying the same hills and towns. What I mean is, Hatzfeld tells one story with this perspective, and then another from that, describing one scene after another, until you feel that you’ve not stood in one spot with only one notion of things, but run about to many places and heard many. “Traces and encounters,” Hatzfeld calls them, as he picks up with many of the same people we heard from in his earlier two books, except that killers and survivors will now appear in the same book, side by side. Continue reading