A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali–Gil Courtemanche, trans. Patricia Claxton

There are books that are read for entertainment, for information, for something to do.  And there are books that transform.  This book is the latter.

Courtemanche writes a fictionalized account of the genocide in Kigali, Rwanda, beginning in the days prior to the worst of the massacre.  His main character, Valcourt, is a Canadian journalist in love with a waitress at the hotel where he resides.  Gentille is a Hutu by ID card, but a Tutsi by phenotype.  Her grandfather, a Hutu, learned of the European opinion that Tutsis were more civilized and evolved  and set out to marry all of his children to Tutsis to ensure the survival of his family.

Irony is rife in this story.

Gentille has a French name in a land colonized by the French, but the French are no heroes here.  They provide weapons to murderers and turn their heads with what is done with them.  They evacuate their own citizens and leave their native employees to certain death.

The Canadians do not go unscathed, either.  They ineptly promote health and good works without having a real impact and their civil servants seem more concerned with accumulating the western trappings of colonial wealth and status than serving the people they are there to help.

After watching Hotel Rwanda I was ashamed to be white and western.   That was just a primer.

Courtemanche recounts the violation and humiliation of the women of Kigali, both Hutus thought to sympathize with Tutsis and those identified as Tutsis.  Men are killed.  Boys are killed.  Little girls are spared to be raped when they grow older.  And women are raped.  And raped.  And raped.  Their breasts are removed.  Their fingers are cut in between.  They are left bleeding and dying while their children cry and cling to them and they stare at the beautiful Kigali sky.

One character writes of her descent into degradation.  “A few days ago I was a thousand points of pleasure, a thousand musical notes transformed into a hymn by your fingers, your lips, your tongue.  Today I’m only two dirty stinking little holes they keep trying to make bigger.  For them I do not have eyes, or breasts, or thighs.  I do not possess cheeks or ears.  And I am certain they do not even feel pleasure.  They empty themselves, relieve themselves the way one urinates or d…(can’t write that word), sweating because one has held it in too long…..I’m not human anymore.  I have no name and even less soul.  I’m a thing, not even a dog that gets stroked or a goat that gets protected and then eaten with gusto.  I’m a vagina.  I’m a hole.”

God help us.

Finished 6/2/12


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