Intimate Enemy: Images and Voices of the Rwandan Genocide

By Paluck, Elizabeth Levy | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Intimate Enemy: Images and Voices of the Rwandan Genocide


Paluck, Elizabeth Levy, The International Journal of African Historical Studies


Intimate Enemy: Images and Voices of the Rwandan Genocide. Photographs by Robert Lyons; Introduction and Interviews by Scott Straus. New York: Zone Books, 2006. Pp. 185; 75 Black and White photo plates. $37.95.

What can I say to make you understand?

- Convicted genocidaire, (Intimate Enemy, p 91)

Genocide overpowers the imagination. Faceless statistics compiled in books and bones piled at memorial sites overwhelm each particular moment of anguish; thick narratives of a few of the hundreds of thousands of victims or killers cannot fully represent the total horror, the organized annihilation of an entire group of humans.

As Scott Straus explains in his spare but eloquent introduction, Intimate Enemy is meant to be a "representational experiment" in which the genocide is "openfed] up for examination." Photographer Robert Lyons and political scientist Straus depart from typical narratives of genocide in books and journals, in art and at memorials, which center on analysis and interpretation (something Straus has done admirably in his other work.) Likewise, the authors wish to avoid an exhibition of the Rwandan genocide that would "purvey shock and horror and thus paralyze thought."

The book presents excerpted transcripts of twenty-three (of the 230) interviews Straus conducted in 2002 with male Rwandan prisoners who had confessed and were convicted of crimes of genocide, followed by seventy-five of Lyons' black and white portraits. The photos are of survivors, prisoners, members of the judiciary and civil society whom Lyons photographed over the course of his own three visits to Rwanda from 1998-2000. However, Lyons presents them without captions, so the reader cannot distinguish killer from victim, judge from genocidaire. Lyons states in his notes that he hoped to create "an archive in which individuals would be more democratically represented ... to make the audience enter a more intimate space, ask questions, experience directly the ambiguous physical resemblances between genocidaire and survivor" (p. 32).

Intimate Enemy's great contribution is that it gives readers a rare and important opportunity to explore the primary sources of the authors' work on the Rwandan genocide. By presenting their interview transcripts and photo archive, Lyons and Straus hand readers a ticket to Rwanda for a personal exploration of genocide with minimal instruction.

Straus provides a brief background of each genocidaire, and then in response to Straus' occasional questions, each man reconstructs the story of his participation in the genocide. …

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