Sunday, October 24, 2010

Books: We Wish to Inform You...

When I was back home in Portland last month, I took a trip to Powell's. Powell's is huge and you could spend a day wandering through the shelves. This is the danger in Powell's: you begin to wander through the shelves because sheer curiosity leads you to wonder what's in the next aisle. Unfortunately, sheer curiosity is also what leads some people to buy books in the first place. So imagine a city block, three stories tall, filled with new and used books. Imagine that for a curious person.

I had originally gone in to buy a workbook on learning English for a friend, and some simple children's reading books. Oh - and book about container gardening. Then I happened to meander around and found myself next to the souvenir corner (where a lady was taking pictures of people in front of a green screen, and printing out pictures that made them look like they were standing outside Powell's. Haha.), and next to the souvenir corner was the bargain shelves. Bargain shelves are bad. You think they're good, because everyone loves a bargain. But they're bad, because you convince yourself that it's okay if you buy a book there. Or two. Or three.

So I bought this one. Written by Philip Gourevitch, We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families is a political and human history of the genocide in Rwanda. I like to keep somewhat knowledgable about current events going on in the world, but the genocide in Rwanda was something I knew nothing about. Did you know 800,000 people were killed? 800,000! For what? For being a certain race. The Hutus were commanded to kill the Tutsis. And they did - mostly with machetes. Hutu sons killed their Tutsi mothers. They massacred children. Neighbor against neighbor, Rwandan against Rwandan. And nobody did anything. The international community didn't step in, and unknowingly (or, I think, eventually knowingly) supplied and aided the killers when they fled Rwanda to refugee camps.

A general is quoted as saying "Some people even think we should not be affected. They think we are like animals, when you've lost some family, you can be consoled, given some bread and tea -- and forget about it." He chuckled. " Sometimes I think this is contempt for us. I used to quarrel with these Europeans who used to come, giving us sodas, telling us, 'You should not do this, you should do this, you don't do this, do this.' I said 'Don't you have feelings?' These feelings have affected people."

Gourevitch describes the situation well. He combines a really deep, insightful look of the history, with a discerning view of the politics, as well as giving a voice to some of the millions of stories from individuals he met along the way. We Wish to Inform You... gave me an introduction to a very shaky and very complicated Africa whose politics and decisions I will never fully understand.

"During [a group of Hutus] attack on the school in Kibuye, the students, teenage girls who had been roused from their sleep, were ordered to separate themselves -- Hutus from Tutsis. But the students had refused. At both schools, the girls said they were simple Rwandans, so they were beaten and shot indiscriminately."


  1. I love Powells! It is so awesome to be able to find so many used books. I think it saves me money, but I just get more and more.

    P.S. Found you through ERG.

  2. Hi jgf! I saw you started following me, and I was trying to figure out how you found my blog :) Thanks for reading!