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Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak

(Rwanda #1)

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  767 ratings  ·  56 reviews
To make the effort to understand what happened in Rwanda is a painful task that we have no right to shirk-it is part of being a moral adult."
-Susan Sontag

In the late 1990s, French author and journalist Jean Hatzfeld made several journeys into the hilly, marshy region of the Bugesera, one of the areas most devastated by the Rwandan genocide of April 1994, where an average o
Paperback, 244 pages
Published November 1st 2007 by Other Press (NY) (first published September 1st 1994)
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Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: rwanda
Note: This review is for the full four-part series.

French reporter and longtime resident of the African continent, Jean Hatzfeld, documents the Rwandan Genocide in more detail than any other historian or journalist. But don't look to his series for a complete historical context or a full examination of the motives of the killers or the previous crimes of the Tutsi people and the colonialists. Other books, like Philip Gourevitch's excellent We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed wi
B Sarv
Dec 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing

In order of publication, the books I am reviewing are:

Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak (2000) by Jean Hatzfeld, trans. Linda Coverdale

Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak (2003) by Jean Hatzfeld, trans. Linda Coverdale

The Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair (2013) by Michael Deibert

This review is about three books at once because: 1) the topics of all three books are related to the 1994 Rwandan genocide and its aftermath, and 2) writing about the books indi
Aug 07, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a gripping but sombre subject. It does exactly what it says on the tin -first hand accounts of what Rwandan genocide survivors experienced during those 100 days, with a short intoduction to their current lives as added by the author. I think more background would have made it more fascinating, but if you want that, read 'Shake Hands With The Devil' by Romeo Dallaire.
Regina Lindsey
Life Laid Bare by Jean Hatzfield
4 Stars

“In 1994, between eleven in the morning on Monday, April 11 and two in the afternoon on Saturday, May 14 about fifty thousand Tutsis, out of a population of around fifty-nine thousand were massacred by machete, murdered every day of the week from nine-thirty in the morning until four in the afternoon, by Hutu neighbors and militiamen, on the hills of the district of Nyamata, in Rwanda.” (pg. 14)
Jean Hatzfield has quite a collection of work dealing the Rwan
Nov 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I enjoyed hearing the first-hand accounts told from the survivors themselves. I did not know much about what happened in Rwanda in 1994 before I read this book. I had heard about the genocide, of course, but I didn't know any of the specifics. I wonder if it was all over the newspapers when it was happening, and I just missed it (very possible, as I was in my last year of college in 1994, and busy with finals that April). But really, I don't remember seeing a sing ...more
May 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a hard book to read from the comfort and safety of your own warm bed. I whipped through it in a couple days. It's heart wrenching. Each chapter is the story of a different survivor of the genocide in Rwanda.
I can't find words to describe feelings this book arose, none seem fitting.
May 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world-booklist

"It's part of Rwandan custom to take refuge in God's houses when the massacres begin. Time let us have two days of quiet, then they rushed into the church and starting slicing people up..."

"I save how savagery can replace kindness in the heart of man, faster than a driving rain."

"We remember all the fearsome moments we personally lived through as if they had happened just last year."

"I hear no one asking for forgiveness. In any case, I know that there is nothing that can be forgiven."

Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the most important books that no one reads.

The genocide of the "elite" Tutsi minority through the 85% Hutu majority was one of the worst and most unpredictable in history. In 1994, the airplane of then-president Habyarimana crashed, his death triggering the long-festering resentment of the Hutu against the Tutsi. Tutsi and Hutu lived mostly peacefully together as neighbors at that time, even though their had been several instances of violent pogroms against the Tutsi before. Still, when t
Kevin Rose
Jun 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
First off, this is not an easy read. It is not an enjoyable read. In fact, I have a hard time recommending it at all, as it is deeply disturbing. But, like books of the Shoah, I think that it is important history to not forget.

This book is told from the point of view of survivors of the Rwandan genocide in a very specific region of the country, an area where 4 out of 5 Tutsi residents were slaughtered. If you watched Hotel Rwanda, let me say - this is nothing like that. It is much worse, and eve
Mar 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a heartbreaking must read book. The charm of the book lies in how a simple story telling can couch one of the deepest questions that humankind has wrestled with - the depravity of what one human being can inflict on another. More so when its one's own neighbours that want to annihilate you - that you go from sharing a drink one day to being hacked the very next day is beyond the realm of understanding.

The stories are told in a direct manner with little theorising. There is little defini
Jan 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing and terrifying. We get stories from the time of the massacre. People who survived hiding in the bush, in swamps and fields. The book poses a question that has appeared many times - why over the years there are still people who, in the name of insane ideas, unspecified motivations or collective madness, are able to hunt other people for cockroaches? Dehumanization is a means to an end. There are no words for it.

The Holocaust, Kosovo and Rwanda - it's strange that it all repeats against th
Jul 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Rwandan genocide is important to know about, if not entirely possible to understand, as explained by the survivors in this book. First-hand accounts of horrors, which happened to real people like you and me. I am now eager to read The Machete Season, if only because what could the aggressors possibly have to say? I would like to find out and am impressed with the author's approach and handling of this incredibly intense and nearly incomprehensible topic. I recommend everyone to read this boo ...more
Dec 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
The first of three books by this author I intend to read now that I've returned from my first visit to Rwanda. This one compiles testimonies from survivors with interludes describing their lives years later. Most of the subjects of this book spent every day for a month burying themselves in the mud and foliage of marshes, hiding from their neighbors' machetes as their families were hacked to pieces.

This is not easy reading. But considering that nearly all foreigners ignored the genocide while i
Jan 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
First-hand accounts of what Tutsie survivors endured during the Rwanda genocide. Haztfeld takes his readers to a specific region and from one house or shop to the next, lets the inhabitants speak their story. If you're reading in French, you'll notice he's left a lot of local terms and expressions in his translations and transcriptions, so that linguistically, the result is quite beautiful.

To a certain extent, this approach reminds me of Nobel Litterature Svetlana Alexievitch's works of literatu
Ayush Bhandari
Nov 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting read to gain true insight into the realities of the Genocide from accounts of survivors. A Perspective untouched upon, experiences and a side of history that the West and largely the rest of the world ignores. Would definitely recommend to gain the real picture.
Anneke Alnatour
This collection of first hand accounts of survivors of the genocide in one specific region Rwanda was hard to read. So much violence, so much that one cannot understand.

We cannot forget about this.

Highly recommended.
Teri Craven
Feb 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
By far, the best trilogy (Machete Season & Antelope's Strategy) about the Genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda. ...more
Oct 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A very informative understanding of the Rwandan genocide from the victims’ perspectives.
Jaclyn Michelle
Dec 10, 2011 rated it really liked it

"I think, moreover, that no one will ever line up the truths of this mysterious tragedy and write them down--not the professors in Kigali and Europe, not the groups of intellectuals and politicians. Every explanation will give way on one side or another, like a wobbly table. A genocide is a poisonous bush that grows not from two or three roots, but from a whole tangle that has moldered underground without anyone noticing." ~Claudine Kayitesi, page 206

Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating book detailing the survivor accounts of the Rwandan genocide. Jean hatzfeld has done a fabulous job of creating great empathy for those featured in the book. Very emotional and hugely informative. I would recommend this for anybody who is either interested in the genocide or has had no previous encounters with it
Mar 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Writer Philip Gourevitch has chosen to discuss Jean Hatzfeld’s Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak on FiveBooks as one of the top five on his subject - Rwanda, saying that: 

The first book Hatzfeld wrote was based on the stories of a group of survivors who had spent the 100 days or so of the genocide hiding in these dense papyrus swamps near their home. They were being hunted there by a gang of killers from around their village, people whom they knew. What makes this a great book is
May 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
At first, I found the author's voice a little too flowery, a little hard to understand and wade through. Soon though, I got used to the rhythm and found that if I slowed my pace and really tried to understand and visualize what was being said that the prose really was beautiful.
The stories are haunting and poetic, I appreciated that, although the stories were translated, it seemed that an effort was made to maintain the phrasing and style of the original narrations. At times this results in sen
Aug 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Individual accounts from survivors of the Rhawandan genocide. Obviously not a "feel good" book, but incredibly compelling. As the reader I went from feelings of absolute horror over the ability of man to inflict such brutality on another human being to outrage over the reasons why this was happening and disgust for world leaders would not step in to help these poor, forsaken people and finally absolute awe that these survivors could go on and rebuild their lives. This is one of those books that ...more
Jan 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The "prequel," so to speak, of Machete Season. This book looks at survivor, and to some extent, bystander testimony of the Rwandan genocide. Hatzfeld's work is illuminating, imminently readable, and heartfelt. Each chapter opens with a vignette of sorts about the area, the store, or the person he will interview. He then follows that with the interview itself, answers only - which is sad, because I would like to know what he asked and how he asked it. The structure, in my mind, is much easier to ...more
Fernando Portillo
Same story with this book took to long but my opinion about this book made my perspective about the world we live in and the world they live in change. We Amercian scomplain that we dont have milk in our refrigerator these people worry bout the next time there going to eat, we get mad because our food was cold they appreciate the fact that the found bread in the trash can. It's amzing and sad that these peploe are brave and go through so much while we cry for the smallest thing. Makes want to go ...more
Sep 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was heart wrenching, but a very fast read. The survivors are all more compassionate than could be expected. Their lives are unbelievably hard. Rwanda squandered a couple generations of people seeking an education and a better way of life when those in power decided to engage in genocide. I sought out this book after reading a fictionalized account, Running the Rift. It is hard to imagine that the rest of the world stood by and again failed to act to stop this insanity.
Dr Zorlak
Mediocre translation made it frequently hard to understand some sentences. The lyricism with which Hatzfeld introduces the testimonies is absolutely overbearing. Beyond that, it is a very important, urgent document. By far the most valuable testimonies are the ones by Jean-Baptiste Munyankore and Sylvie Umubyeyi, as both try to delve deep into the transformation of their Hutu neighbors (some of them intellectuals and professionals).
Oct 23, 2008 added it
It's definitely helpful to hear survivors tell their own story. He doesn't explain how he conducted the interviews, but a pattern emerges in the accounts that he asked everyone a series of questions and then put their responses into a narrative form, which makes it feel a bit formulaic, but on the other hand allows for comparison.
Alyssa Saucier
Apr 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
I initially grabbed this book from the library as a resource to use in a research paper. However, after reading the first two chapters I couldn't put it down. The stories are heartbreaking yet triumphant, informative and inspiring. The book itself is organized in a manner which lends well to the construction of the story as a whole. A great read overall.
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Jean Hatzfeld is a journalist. He worked for many years as a war correspondent for Libération, a French newspaper, before leaving to focus on reporting the Rwandan genocide.

Other books in the series

Rwanda (3 books)
  • Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak
  • The Antelope's Strategy: Living in Rwanda After the Genocide

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