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A Thousand Hills to Heaven: Love, Hope, and a Restaurant in Rwanda

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  659 ratings  ·  127 reviews
One couple's inspiring memoir of healing a Rwandan village, raising a family near the old killing fields, and building a restaurant named Heaven.

Newlyweds Josh and Alissa were at a party and received a challenge that shook them to the core: do you think you can really make a difference? Especially in a place like Rwanda, where the scars of genocide linger and poverty is r
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published November 5th 2013 by Little, Brown and Company (first published January 1st 2013)
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Average rating 4.11  · 
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 ·  659 ratings  ·  127 reviews

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Diane S ☔
Oct 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
The first thing I noted when I started reading this book was the author's enthusiasm and love for his various endeavors. Rwanda has suffered a horrific past, but is now on the road to recovery, and the people look toward the future with hope.

Josh, first got into this type of work on almost a fluke, but his enthusiasm for this type of project has guided his life, with a few detours and when he met his wife, Alissa, they both decided oi make Rwanda their home. It is through their story that the r
Mar 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
In spite of my expectations, I simply could not put this book down. I devoured all 320 pages in a day and half. It's incredibly fascinating to read about your own backyard, tracing back the neighborhoods, people, tragedies, and triumphs that colored it with life 5, 10, and 15 years ago.

Moreover, Josh's account of his and Alissa's adventures supplied the much-needed energy I've been lacking for the past few months, wandering aimlessly and rather unintentionally through my own life in Kigali. Fee
I really wanted to like this book. It was recommended by one of my favourite book blogs and I love Africa and people who do good there.

The author makes some good points about how to do development in Africa without creating dependence. His style, however, irritated me somewhat. I perceived him as an American do-gooder, with a sense of superiority that is respectful to Africa on the surface only. I did not even find the way he described his wife or his children particularly endearing, they came a
Apr 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a gem of a book that I never would have come across had I not heard about it on the What Should I Read Next podcast. This is the story of a family who moves to Rwanda to do international development work and eventually establishes a restaurant. The author is a seasoned international development professional and gives some great insights on what types of aid actually works and what ends up hurting more than it helps. We also get glimpses into what happened during the Rwandan genocide as t ...more
Jan 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Before reading this, you must understand that it is entirely written with the American audience in mind. It isn’t written to an audience outside that demographic at all, although of course anyone from anywhere can read it. I am a South African. He likes and serves South Africa wine in his clearly wonderful restaurant.
The first few pages are tough to get by because, he does sound like the arrogant American who comes in a chariot to save the poor people of Africa. But I would compel you to please
Tom Steiner
Oct 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A love story and adventure of two people written in such a way that I could not stop reading. It was amazing that Josh Ruxin decided to move lock stock and barrel to Rwanda to help a society in transition after the horrible genocide which took place in the early 90's. He explains how he changed the way the Rwandans went from almost no health facilities to creating over 60 clinics as well as teaching the natives how to farm on land that had never been farmable. On his journey he meets the love of ...more
Jun 29, 2016 rated it did not like it
This was a book club book so I was open to reading different genre. I'm an expat as well, and sadly the author makes expats look like the arrogant spoiled brats some expats tend to be. I admire his work, but his name dropping made me cringe. I gave up when he returned the margarita because 'they won't know any better' if you don't tell them. I'm sad that he had to stroke his ego when writing it. I didn't finish the book. ...more
Nov 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
As indicated in the Preface, this is not a book about the Rwandan genocide, nor about politics or the local economy. It's about the life that a young couple is building in Rwanda, and their contribution to the end of poverty there. Josh Ruxin, highly educated at Ivy League schools and a self-described "development nerd", decided to phase out his consulting career and start Health Builders, a program to help countries create business plans for public health investments through the Global Fund. Jo ...more
Feb 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful book about humanitarian aid, life, and hope in the hilly country of Rwanda. Josh Ruxin has an impeccable resume of contacts, networks, and experience in the NGO / humanitarian world. And a wife that he cherishes and who is his partner throughout the struggles they face. Ruxin has a desire to eradicate poverty in Rwanda, a country shredded by the 1994 genocide. He comes to establish health care and farming. His approach is different - and admirable - from the traditional NGO, western- ...more
Aug 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful book, I cannot recommend it enough!

This should be required reading for anyone involved with an NGO or other aid project. Josh & Alissa Ruxin are an amazing couple. This story is about so much more than just the restaurant - although that is a large part of it. Actually, the plans to build Heaven don't come forth in the story until almost halfways through the book. Between the work with the health clinics, farming, Alissa's work with children - this couple tirelessly devotes t
Rachel Wexelbaum
Jul 16, 2014 rated it liked it
This is one couple's experience of how they made it, and changed many lives, in Rwanda. While it made for light reading, Ruxin made everything he and his wife accomplish sound a little too easy, and also made the Rwandans sound a little too simple. Perhaps those who have lived and worked in Rwanda would know better than I...but the book made me more skeptical as opposed to more enlightened. ...more
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
A memoir about an American couple who move to Rwanda long-term to work on building sustainable health care facilities, and also (in the title), a restaurant named "Heaven".

John and Alissa's 3 children were born and raised there and they seem to be in it for the long haul. Although it should be noted that the "it" seemed to be a general effort towards poverty eradication, not specifically to open a restaurant. That idea came only after they had lived there awhile and saw an economic opportunity
Patricia Burgess
Jun 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Josh and Alissa Ruxin seize/create an opportunity to move to Rwanda in the early 2000s to work on Millenium Village. Mayange is wrought with years of drought, extreme poverty, extreme malnutrition and neighbors still in grief from the horrors of the 1994 genocide. This memoir is moving and informative, how a country pulls itself out of its past and makes elimination of poverty its primary priority. The Ruxins are "on the ground," working with both aid and government organizations but more import ...more
Dec 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Josh Ruxin tells the story of rousing himself from a comfortable life as a successful Manhattan-based development consultant, to the front lines of poverty in equatorial Africa as Rwanda has grappled with the legacy of genocide. He shares both the conflicts and triumphs he encounters with others and himself as he seeks to make a difference in the lives of individuals in the most direct way possible -- but also in a way that could be applied more broadly.

Josh is both a dreamer and a realist, capa
Feb 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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Having read many books about Rwanda and the horrific genocide that took place in 1994, this memoir was an amazing read about how much progress has been made in the last 20 years. I loved this book for so many reasons - the wonderful writing and storytelling that was hard to put down, Josh's beautifully expressed love for his wife and family, an incredible group of Rwandian friends and coworkers with so many heartbreaking stories but a remarkable ability to forgive and love that is just inspirati ...more
Jul 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I hardly ever venture into the realm of non-fiction because I love stories, and find most non-fiction to be so bogged down with statistics that it reads more like a timeline than a story. Ruxin is a beautiful story teller, and I absolutely loved this book.

Ruxin tells the story of his family's building of a life in Rawanda, and their journey to bring a better life to those already living there. His personal account of the aftermath (even years later) of the Rawandan genocide and the lives it left
Dec 26, 2013 rated it liked it
A 3-star book with 5-star moments. The author makes Rwanda sound like a beautiful place. This book appealed to my need for armchair travel (I love the author's description of what it's like to wake up in his house in Kigali, but I'll probably never go there). Along the way, I was impressed with this family's commitment to doing good.

Lots of explanations of the best ways to go about development work; a bit less about food and setting up the restaurant. Although the book is not about the genocide,
Apr 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
FIRST LINE REVIEW: "Our plane drifts up over the Atlantic at dusk." I have read at least 10 books about Rwanda and its recent history. This one was, by far, my favorite! Maybe that's because I'll also be drifting "over the Atlantic" in a few weeks to land in Rwanda, but it's also because I found Josh and Alissa's story so beautifully inspiring and well-told. The huge beam of hope that now shines on Rwanda is wonderful and this tale of two Americans committing their lives to making a difference t ...more
David Zapol
Oct 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is a page-turner. I literally could not put it down, ignoring all responsibility while I devoured chapter after scintillating chapter. Ruxin's memoir is a personal account of an extraordinary adventure to set up a life and save lives in Rwanda. It is a celebration and discovery of the important things in life, balanced with the levity of talking about food. A must- read for anyone who has both a heart and a mind. ...more
Harlan Kennedy
Nov 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a very engaging account of a couple's time in a strange and faraway place. The author does a great job of alternating between very personal accounts of their lives and the intricacies of the world of international aid. Mostly this book is a series of great stories - some happy, some tragic. But within these stories, Ruxin has a point of view that comes through clearly. Well written. Highly recommended. ...more
Apr 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a must read for anyone with an interest in Africa and development because it is a book filled with hope. It describes successes and failures and gives the reader the sense that poverty reduction is possible. Set in Rwanda, there are some stories of the genocide, but it is not a story of the genocide. It is a story of reconstruction. It has a memoir like feel to the narrative that allows the reader to fully embrace the story and to want to be part of the solution.
Nic Ayson
Mar 28, 2017 rated it liked it
I found I struggled to get really into this book as I really didn't enjoy the authors style. Not a lot of humility felt from this guy. Although I'm quite sure he and his wife achieved wondrous things during their time in Rwanda, I didn't really care to follow his take on their successes. Too much skite..for me. ...more
Jul 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Such a positive, uplifting story of a country that has really been transformed.
This was a present from a dear friend. What I liked the most was the author's smooth writing. I read it in like three sittings.
Inspiring story, heartwarming and engaging.
Wendy Kiang-Spray
Feb 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Having watched Hotel Rwanda and read We Wish to Inform You..., I was aware of the atrocities that happened in the country. In this book, the author describes many stories from acquaintances, friends, and friends of friends in a plain and accessible way. The facts are nothing less than horrifying, but this book made me feel the emotion and sadness of the genocide as well, when previously I had felt mostly shock and horror.

I found the aftermath decades later very interesting and the book explains
Jul 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Josh and Alissa Ruxin both have backgrounds in international development. At a party one evening in New York, they’re challenged by an opportunity to go make a difference in Rwanda. It is the years after the genocide and during a famine and people are struggling. They agree to go and begin to work in Mayange (my-ANN-jay), a hard-hit group of villages where officials have tried all they know to do with no success. Josh goes in and brings food to the people – the rationale being that starving peo ...more
Nov 14, 2020 rated it liked it
I had a bit of an internal conflict while deciding how to rate this book. No question that it is a 5 star review in terms of the inspirational story that this book provides. However, it is not a 5 star for execution in my opinion. The author shares the experiences that he and his wife shared while living and working in Rwanda. In some areas, a lot of detail is provided about their work, but in other areas, I felt like detail was missing and I was left wanting more. Some individuals who the autho ...more
Rachel G
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I recently finished listening to "A Thousand Hills to Heaven: Love, Hope, and a Restaurant in Rwanda" by Josh Ruxin. (He reads the audio version - I love it when the author also does the narration!)
It was so good. This is a book that I will add to my personal library.
Ruxin writes about how he ended up working in Rwanda with his wife and also shares quite a bit of Rwandan history. I was only four years old at the time of the genocide, so I only had a vague impression of what happened. Ruxin tell
Mad Stork
Sep 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
1. An old story about a kid who is throwing starfish back in the sea because they’ve all washed up on the shore. Some guy comes along and tells the kid there are a million stranded starfish, and they are just going to die. “Not this one,” the kid says as he tosses it in the sea. “And not this one,” he says as he keeps going. p80.
1. An enjoyable book, glad I read it. Interesting to see public health from a different perspective than just medicine. Discusses the benefits of public vs. privatize
Omgema Dut
Feb 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this book and learned a lot from the author's experiences. I learned a lot of stories about the Rwandan genocide, all of which made me tear up. Probably the most important thing I learned was about how he made a difference for the people in Rwanda that was sustainable for the people. Bringing in private industry traits such as establishing businesses like the Heaven restaurant and the Cassava plant company to help employee the people and sustain their economy long term. From the author ...more
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“Rwandans have a funny relationship with God, which they convey through a story that anyone can tell you: "God worked very hard for six days creating the heavens and the earth. But on the seventh day, he needed a break, so he picked Rwanda as the place to take a much needed sleep. God sleeps in Rwanda, then keeps busy at work everywhere else."
This story has two meanings: The negative take is that God is not in Rwanda to protect you or answer your prayers, that He comes here only to shut His eyes. The other interpretation of "God sleeps in Rwanda" is that the country is a mile up, cooler and more beautiful than any other place, and so, naturally, this would be where God comes when He is not punching the clock. His favorite place. It was the second interpretation that we needed to believe.”
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