A Time for Machetes: The Rwandan Genocide - The Killers Speak by Jean Hatzfeld
|A Time for Machetes: The Rwandan Genocide - The Killers Speak by Jean Hatzfeld|
|Category: Politics and Society|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A terrifying look at the Rwandan genocide from the perspective of the killers, this book follows on remorselessly from Hatzfeld's previous book from the perspective of the victims. Much as you might shrink from this second volume, the truth is that you'll only even come somewhere towards approaching the truth by reading both. Oral testimony coupled with authorial integrity make this a powerful book.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: January 2008|
|Publisher: Serpent's Tail|
|External links: Author's website|
In Rwanda, in the spring of 1994, 800,000 Tutsis were murdered by their Hutu fellow citizens, hacked to death by machetes. As the rest of the world looked on, as the UN did nothing but evacuate westerners and actually reduce its presence in a country wracked by civil strife, Tutsis took refuge in churches and were burned to death. They were hunted down in marshes and cut to pieces by their very neighbours.
In this book, Jean Hatzfeld talks to a group of nine of the perpetrators, at the time in prison for their crimes. Each describes what he did during those horrendous two months, what it was like to kill someone for the first time, how the massacre was organised, how the spoils were divided, what remorse they feel, if any, and how they plan to spend their lives when their sentences are up. As you can imagine, it doesn't make for easy reading. Hatzfeld's other book about the genocide, the story from the survivor's perspective, has a lot less authorial comment. It's easy to see why. This is a brave but dangerous book, full of ethical quandaries. As Hatzfeld struggles with the rights and wrongs of his project, so does Innocent, his Tutsi translator and genocide survivor, and so do you, the reader.
Where the survivors talked about horrors and grief, the perpetrators talk about work and quotas. One imagines this enables them to distance themselves from the true meaning of what they did. I was truly shocked to learn that these men approached the two months of slaughter like a job. They began at nine in the morning and butchered until about four in the afternoon. After that, well, they went home for their tea. Of all the horrors, the burnings, the impalings of pregnant women, the murders of babes in arms, this is the thing I just can't get over. These men were killing their neighbours, their colleagues, and at four in the afternoon they went home for their tea. In some ways they understand what they have done, in other ways they simply don't even begin to approach it.
Hatzfeld gets it all just right. There's no tub-thumping from him, but he doesn't pretend to be completely objective. How could he? He adds enough background detail for comprehension, but doesn't make judgements and doesn't swamp you. The translation - from Rwandan, to Rwandan French, to French and then to English - can be a little idiosyncratic, but the voices never seem less than authentic. This is a difficult book, but a brilliantly realised one, and I salute its making. We might not like the idea, but need to confront the unimaginable.
This book is the follow up to Hatzfeld's Into the Quick of Life: The Rwandan Genocide - The Survivors Speak which you should probably read first. In it, the survivors of the genocide give their testimonies. In a strange way, although it is more gruesome in detail, it is less harrowing to read. There is no effort required in one's attitude toward victims. One feels all the requisite emotions - shock, horror, sympathy, distress - automatically. After reading, one engages with paucity of one's reaction in comparison to what the testators have suffered and this can be difficult. However, not so difficult as to read the stories of the perpetrators and to realise that they are small, self-centric people who have done monstrous things but are not monsters. Terrifyingly, they're not so different from oneself.
English PEN helped finance the translations of these books, and I would like to give them a shout out as people who defend and promote writing such as this and persecuted writers too, all around the world. Check out their website. If weren't for people like this, you wouldn't be able to read books like this, and your world view would suffer immeasurably for it.
My thanks to the good people at Serpent's Tail for sending the book.
A Time for Machetes: The Rwandan Genocide - The Killers Speak by Jean Hatzfeld is in the Top Ten Non-Fiction Books To Make You Think.
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