[We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda]

Article excerpt

New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1998, 356pp, $39.95, (ISBN 0-374-28697-3)

In a recurring image, Philip Gourevitch's stories of death in Rwanda follow those who stumble unwittingly over human remains as they go about their business. With a self-proclaimed motive of fascination and intrigue, he strives to make Rwanda's state-organized, three-month-long slaughter of some 800,000 thousand Tutsi and moderate Hutus more imaginable to the rest of the world.

Central to his stories are the questions of why and how: Why did the genocide occur? Why did the international community not prevent it? How do Rwandans understand what happened? How are they recovering? In answer to why and how the genocide occurred, Gourevitch points to collective madness theories, but notes that the genocide's killing machinery does not fit that construct: thousands of Hutus worked as killers in daily shifts. Though he unearths many possible causes, he does not claim a clear or definitive explanation.

While pursuing his purpose of engaging readers with real life stories, Gourevitch does what he can to achieve veracity. Some readers will see a fictional quality in his sparkling prose. Time and again he shows that the stories of killing change when retold by the same person, as well as when told by others. The changes and Gourevitch's postmodernist tone remind readers that his is an exploration of the relativity of truth; also perhaps that relativity offers the best mode of depicting what survivors carry in their heads and hearts. …