Saturday, August 20, 2011

Machete Season by Jean Hatzfeld - Book Review

Machete Season - The Killers in Rwanda Speak, by Jean Hatzfeld

This one is a really hard one. I've been reading it bit by bit every evening over the past few weeks (I haven't had machete-murder-themed dreams for a while for a few months, but I am sure one is lurking in the background, just waiting to pounce). It's a very difficult book to read, not just because of the sheer amount of atrocities committed by the 10 individuals interviewed in the book, but also because you have to keep remembering that these people are mass murderers, that they followed orders to wipe out an entire population without even thinking about it. You have to take steps back to NOT feel even a tiny bit of sympathy for the few of them who openly admit guilt and remorse. Being a very empathetic person I felt torn reading this book. To be quite honest I wish I hadn't (but that just makes it all the more important that I have).

After having collected many testimonies from survivors of the Rwanda genocide, Hatzfeld, a French journalist, decided to put together a book using the voices of the actual perpetrators of the killings. Not the ones who actually masterminded the violence and death, but 10 Hutu farmers who had grown up together, worked and played together, amongst Tutsi farmers, from a small village in the mainly rural Nyamata region. The book is divided into sections based on themes, rather than a chronological account, and all voices speak their thoughts and actions, based on these themes. For example, there is a chapter on the first time each person killed someone, or on looting. Some of the voices are more matter of fact, others show genuine guilt. Day after day after day these 10 individuals went off into the marshes and murdered anyone they came across who happened to be Tutsi. All with machetes and hammers and sticks. Only the Interhamwe actually had guns.
Now, every time I read the verb "cut" I can only think of men killing other men, women and children with machetes. The word appears thousands of times through-out the book.

In any case, I still feel physically ill after finishing it. But it's a must read to at least have SOME insight into what was going on in their minds when they followed the orders to murder everything in sight... You are not going to get an answer to the "why" though. I just don't really think there is one.

For anyone who is researching genocide, genocide testimonies, Rwanda - this really is a must read.

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