This was Gil Courtemanche’s first novel and it traces the Rwandan genocide through the life and tragic love story of Valcourt an older Canadian expatriate working there as a journalist and Gentille a young Rwandan working at the hotel Mille Collines as a waitress.
The story is fictional but the events taking place in the story are real.It is said the events in the book are an eye witness account of how Rwanda burned as the world watched as the land of a thousand hills drowned in the blood of innocent civilians doomed to their fate by the color of their skin,their slight build or their height.
At the beginning of the book the writer gives a brief history of how these tribal animosities between the Rwandans started.Gentille’s great great grandfather is quoted as saying’it seems we are not what we are ,nor what we appear to be…..and the future of my children will be bearable only if we become what we are not.’.And from then Kawa did all he could to change his childrens ethnicity from Hutu’s to Tutsi’s.It is sad therefore that a few generations later Gentille who is described as the most beautiful girl in Butare though Hutu was always mistaken for a Tutsi because of her light skin,slight build and height.
The stereotypes Africans have of whites are beautifully captured in the book through the eyes of Valcourt who fortunately or unfortunately is so enamored of his adopted country Rwanda despite the evils and the problems that bedevil it then.Reading the book the failings of us as humans is so well captured through the characters in the book but so is the unfaltering human will to do good through Victor who saves so many Tutsi’s while risking his life.
AIDS,the African problem is ever present in the narrations in the book.Maybe this is well viewed through the eyes of Celestine who figures we are going to die anyway and he goes ahead to give pleasure to all the women in the market where he sells tobacco while also gifting them with the HIV.
Its a wonderful book and though it had to have the white man as the her there are many good things to be said about African characters like Victor,Zozo,Elise and Emerita’s mum who fight tribalism and show why in the final end the human spirit and will does more good than harm most of the time if not always.