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Book Review: by Lang Reid
An Ordinary Man - The true
story behind Hotel Rwanda
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
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.
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