Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Horrors of Looking Away from Rwanda

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Horrors of Looking Away from Rwanda

Article excerpt

WE WISH TO INFORM YOU THAT TOMORROW WE WILL BE KILLED WITH OUR FAMILIES: Stories from Rwanda By Philip Gourevitch Farrar, Straus & Giroux 384 pp., $25+

It seems a confusing age, this post-cold-war era, punctuated as it is by events too upsetting to contemplate. Consider the massacres in Rwanda in 1994 that killed approximately 1 million people, perhaps more.

I suppose many people are like me. I read and saw a little bit about this tragedy and then tuned out. I am interested in what goes on in the world, but when confronted with suffering and violence that seem senseless and inexplicable, I move on. I can't grapple with what I can't fathom. So I am grateful to Philip Gourevitch for his book on Rwanda. Its lengthy title is drawn from a letter written by Protestant pastors to their superior: "We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families." They were. Gourevitch writes for The New Yorker, and parts of his book initially appeared in that magazine. Last week, "We Wish to Inform You" was chosen as a finalist in general nonfiction for the 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award. The winners will be announced in a ceremony in New York on March 8. This work is not evanescent journalism. It is a book that reminds us that the cost of self-sanctioned ignorance - your ignorance, my ignorance - is that terrible things will keep happening. The Rwandan massacres, in Gourevitch's telling, are not obscure tribal bloodlettings, as journalists with much shorter deadlines sometimes portrayed them. He writes: "The next time you hear a story like the one that ran on the front page of The New York Times in October of 1997, reporting on 'the age-old animosity between the Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups,' remember that until ... 1959 there had never been systematic political violence recorded between Hutus and Tutsis anywhere. …

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