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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

An Ordinary Man - The true story behind Hotel Rwanda

“An Ordinary Man - The true story behind Hotel Rwanda” (ISBN 978-074-75855-8-9 Bloomsbury Publishing paperback 2007 and authored by Paul Rusesabagina with Tom Zoellner) is the story of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the 1200 people sheltered in the Hotel Mille Collines. “It had become killing for killing’s sake, killing for sport, killing for nothing,” writes Rusesabagina. “Dogs barking and snarling as they fought each other to feast on human remains.”
He chronicles the deaths, “800,000 in 100 days. It was not the largest genocide in the history of the world, but it was the fastest and most efficient. It was an atmosphere where the insane was made to feel normal and disagreement with the mob was fatal.”
The book begins where he describes his early upbringing in a Hutu mud-house, with parents who could neither read not write, but they understood that their children should gain those skills. The verbal imagery is excellent, showing the Rwandan environment as it was.
He also shows historically how an artificial division was created in the population, mentioning the Hamitic Hypothesis put forward by the British explorer John Hanning Speke who saw the world in biblical terms and postulated that the Hutu were the descendents of Noah’s dispossessed son Ham. (God help us!) Rwanda was ruled initially by the Germans and then by the Belgians after WW I and it was they who completely divided the country by supposed ethnicity, followed by the French influence in the early 1990s.
Divide and rule only works for a while, and eventually there will be an uprising. As the revolution reached flashpoint, the UN peacekeeping forces in the capital Kigali did nothing to avert the tragedy, apparently on the advice of Kofi Annan. The best that UN forces could do, when asked for help, was to suggest they run out of their back door, if someone came to the front.
As the massacre unfolds, you turn the pages automatically, unable to put the book down as you digest the horror of the civil war. The UN forces left, after the bulk were evacuated, he describes as “well meaning but useless. The UN was not just useless during the genocide. It was worse than useless.” He also shows the US shilly-shallying and the failure of the Christian religions to protect their flocks.
This book is the most heart-rending tale. I had to stop many times as further reading was just so painful. Author Paul Rusesabagina claims he is an “ordinary man”, but nothing could be further from the truth. He is a hero in every sense of the word even though he denies it, and fortunately for us, a survivor who has been able to tell the tale which should not be ignored by history. We should not forget that 800,000 were slaughtered. How little we are removed from the animal. However, despite everything he has been through, Paul Rusesabagina still believes that, “Human beings were designed to live in sanity, and sanity always returns.” I hope he is correct - for all our sakes.
Get this book. B. 450 in Bookazine.