REVIEW | Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak by Jean Hatzfeld

Life Laid Bare: The Survivors of Rwanda Speak by Jean Hatzfeld

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title: Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak [support an independent bookseller and purchase from Strand]
author: Jean Hatzfeld
genre: nonfiction
pages: 244
source: New York Public Library

“I think, moreover, that no one will ever line up the truths of this mysterious tragedy and write them down–not the professors in Kigali and Europe, not the groups of intellectuals and politicians. Every explanation will give way on one side or another, like a wobbly table. A genocide is a poisonous bush that grows not from two or three roots, but from a whole tangle that has moldered underground without anyone noticing.” ~Claudine Kayitesi, page 206

Journalist Jean Hatzfeld made several journeys to Bugesera in the late 1990s to interview the men, women and children who survived the Rwandan genocide, where 5 out of 6 Tutsis were brutally massacred by their Hutu neighbors over the period of several weeks. This book is a collection of those interviews where the survivors, in their own words, describe life before, during and since the genocide. Each survivor’s story is preceded by Hatzfeld’s delicate and vivid impressions of Bugesera’s community.

What struck me most was the bravery, openness and honesty with which each survivor spoke, as each relayed their own history bare and tried to make sense of it. Some powerful quotes:

“In my memory, the genocide was yesterday, or rather, last year, and it will always be just last year, because I can detect no change that will allow time to return to its proper place.” ~Edith Uwanyiligira, page 173.

“We wrapped our fears in the leaves of silence.”~Berthe Mwanankabandi, page 183

“The genocide pushes into isolation those it could not push into death.” ~Berthe Mwanankabandi, page 188

“We were forgotten by time, which must have continued to pass for others–Hutus, foreigners, animals–but no longer wished to pass for us.”~Claudine Kayitesi, page 200

“A genocide is a film projected every day before the eyes of the survivors, and there’s no point in interrupting it before the end.” ~Sylvie Umubyeyi, page 222

“I feel that fear is eating away at the time luck has saved for us…[b]ecause if you linger too long with the fear of genocide, you lose hope. You lose what you have managed to salvage from life. You risk contamination from a different madness.” ~Sylvie Umubyeyi, page 234

Hatzfeld does an incredible job creating the platform from which the survivors teach us about the best and worst of humanity. Powerful, moving and carefully wrought.

Just a word of advice: I chose this book as my subway read because it was compact…not a good call. I found myself frequently tearing up as I read each gripping account of survival. I’m not big on crying in public…little awkward for my fellow commuters!! Sorry about that!!

Rubric rating: 8. I’m looking forward to reading the companion piece Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak.

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