The remains of a quarter million people are stored in vast concrete tombs in Kigali, Rwanda, at the national genocide memorial, where a flame was lit Monday to mark the 20th anniversary of the horrifying mass genocide in the small Central African nation.
Monday commemorates the systematic, national attempt of the ruling Hutu to wipe out the country's Tutsi minority—it's estimated that 800,000 people were killed between April and July of 1994 alone.
The numbers just can't tell a story that is so difficult to understand. Perhaps the foremost work of nonfiction about the genocide is the heartbreaking book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, by Philip Gourevitch, a longtime staff writer for The New Yorker. Few could imagine the violence that Gourevitch would describe with gruesome poetry in the pages that followed: machete-cracked skulls, the corpses of women and children rotting in streets.
The book opens with an anecdote from a night Gourevitch spent at a bar in the town of Gikongoro, during a reporting trip that began a year after the genocide. There, he met a black Pygmy who was obsessed with marrying a white woman—a story Gourevitch tells to explain that his book about genocide is actually "a book about how people imagine themselves and one another—a book about how we imagine our world."
In an interview with National Public Radio that aired Monday, Gourevitch said that the public imagination in Rwanda is shifting, in part because the median age there is 18.8—which means more than half the population was born after the genocide.
"Many people see the genocide as a humiliating moment, a moment that they represented the worst of humanity," said Gourevitch, adding that it's used as a "spur to do better."
Which serves as a fair reminder: Every imagination needs to be spurred to make the world better every so often.
In other news...
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