Friday, March 26, 2010

Left To Tell

For centuries, the two tribes that make up the country of Rwanda, the Hutus and the Tutsis, have been warring against each other.  The tribe in power has shifted back and forth between the two, often after many brutal deaths in the upheaval for control.  The tension between the parties came to a head in 1994 when exiled Tutsi rebels invaded the capital.  In retaliation, the Hutu government called for the extinction of the Tutsi people.  Hutus across the country took up guns and machetes and went to work.  When the mass murder was finally over after one hundred days, about one million people had been killed, more than 90% of them Tutsis.  That works about to be 10,000 people a day.  Most Americans never knew what happened.

My book group picked the book Left to tell : discovering God amidst the Rwandan holocaust by Immacul√©e Ilibagiza for our March meeting and I had no idea what an impact this book would have on me. Told in first person, Immaculee Ilibagiza describes her life in Rwanda, from her idyllic childhood in a loving, well-educated, and religious family to her time in college studying engineering.  It speaks volumes of her parents' goodness that Immaculee didn't know what tribe she belonged to until she went to school and was required to state her tribe.  There was some discrimination because she was a Tutsi, but not enough to stop her from getting a good education and making a life for herself.  

When everything came to a head in 1994, Immaculee was home from college, visiting her family.  As bands of Hutus began slaughtering Tutsis, thousands of Tutsis in her village camped out on her parents' property, hoping to be protected by sheer numbers.  When the Hutus came for the people, Immaculee's family was split up and Immaculee ended up in a Protestant minister's home, hiding with her brothers.  After the minister kicked out her brothers, he hid Immaculee and seven other women in a tiny bathroom off of the master bedroom in his home.  What started out as a quick solution to keeping them hid turned into 91 days of hiding, cramped and in constant fear of discovery.

 The horrific setting I've described to you is only half of the story.  This book is really the story of how Immaculee Ilibagiza came to commune with God during her months in that bathroom, her struggle to overcome hatred for the Hutus and being able to forgive the men who killed her family.  I was overcome so many times while I read this book with how she coped with her situation.  She could have descended into anger and madness while she was confined in silence in that bathroom, but instead she took that rare opportunity to pray on a constant basis and receive comfort and guidance.  While most survivors of the holocaust wanted revenge, or at least to stockpile weapons for retaliation, Immaculee strove to forgive and find peace.  

As horrific as the circumstances of this book are, it's a story of hope.  Immaculee's story teaches that anyone can forgive and that doing so can bring peace and comfort.  Her story is one that is heart-breaking, terrifying and also incredibly moving and uplifting.  I believe that reading this book gave me a better sense of my own need to come closer to God.  It was beautiful and compelling and my life is better from reading it.


  1. Wow! What a story!! I need to read this one. Like you mentioned, I did not know about this holocaust. 1 million people! The WWII holocaust had over six million people die and everyone knows about it. This happened (while I was out of touch with the world for a couple years), and I had no idea. Thanks for the review.

  2. I didn't really know anything about Rwanda until I saw the movie Hotel Rwanda, which is about a hotel owner who housed thousands of Tutsis in his hotel during that massacre. I am very interested in reading this book. Thanks for the heads up.

  3. What a fascinating read. Sounds like you've got a good book group! Thanks for passing it along! I'll have to put it on my list once I get through my current stack.