Brendan's Reviews > We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Ou... by Philip Gourevitch
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Oct 20, 08

Recommended for: Bill Clinton & Maddy Albright

To be honest, Gourevitch's book doesn't sound inviting. What book about genocide could? And its title alone suggests a kind of vicious, heart-stopping sadness that many of us would prefer to turn away from. Which may, in fact, be the point. Either way, Gourevitch's writing won't let you turn away. He tells the story of the Rwandan genocide in a prose so wonderfully crafted and infused with anger and insight as to be nearly hypnotic. From the opening pages, the young reporter confronts his own very mixed emotions as he tours a schoolhouse where decomposed cadavers, piled two and three high, carpet the floors of several rooms.

"I had never been among the dead before," he writes. "What to do? Look? Yes. I wanted to see them, I suppose; I had come to see them . . . Yet looking at the buildings and the bodies, and hearing the silence of the place, with the grand Italianate basilica standing there deserted, and beds of exquisite, decadent, death-fertilized flowers blooming over the corpses it was still strangely unimaginable. I mean one still had to imagine it.”

This is precisely what Gourevitch so brilliantly accomplishes in We Wish to Inform You: allowing us to imagine, with uncomfortable immediacy, such unimaginable inhumanity. It took 100 days in 1994 for ruling Hutus to slaughter 800,000 of their Tutsi countrymen. But such a statistic only cracks open the door to a world where the victims were killed not by gas or ovens but with swinging machetes; where preachers presided over the killing of their parishes, husbands over the killing of their wives; where the French army intervened in favor of the killers and the U.S. government didn't intervene at all; and where the United Nations peacekeepers, before abandoning the country altogether, fired their weapons only to stop dogs from eating the corpses. Apparently, international concern was focused more on disease than genocide.

Through a myriad of interviews -- with unflagging energy he talks to survivors, killers, politicians and generals -- Gourevitch helps bring a dose of understanding and even, improbably, hope to the madness. He is at his most interesting, though, when speculating on the fate of Rwandan society. In a remarkable bit of analysis, he suggests that the very fact of Rwandan culture that helped usher in the killing -- Rwandans' tendency to do as they are told -- may, in fact, help restore calm. How else can the government integrate so many killers back into society except to order that it be so?
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